I could have written this before Sukkot, or at least I had meant to, but life interferred. This is what I thought of as I bought my paper goods for the holiday; hevel havalim, the paper, that would just be thrown away as soon as it was finished. At least I tried to use as much recycle as I could, and that was the real reason for the trip to the ephemera store, I mean the paper supply place, to get the recycle “glasses”, wine cups, and shot glasses for the unending kiddushes. What else did I get for $45? I don’t really remember at this point. I had bought enough paper plates from Costco to last a few more holidays or emergencies (my mother trained me well), so I didn’t have to worry about those. I don’t even bother getting theme plates as I used to years ago, but I do try to match my tablecloths to the paper plate design. That’s enough decorating.
I realized that the simchah, happiness, that we are commanded to have on Sukkot is one of irony. There’s this little word אך in v’hayita ach sameach that many do comment on (see here for a good assortment) but I see differently. I think it means “but”; in other words, limiting our happiness with a different kind of expression.
I’ll illustrate my meaning with a story.
On the first night of Sukkot, my wonderful granddaughters were setting the table for (kanna hara) a lot of people. They were perplexed about how to make sure that their little brothers would not get knives, since I was not sure at all where everyone should sit. (I hate making those decisions, even though I end up having to tell people where to sit, when it comes down to it.) I told them not to put knives out for everyone, and we could always adjust them later during the meal itself. But wouldn’t you know, when it came down to it, the one particular brother who was told he could not have a knife because he was engaging in wild play even before we got into the sukkah (“I want my sukkah to be one of shalom!”, I told him, not thinking that would have any effect, but let it be said, nevertheless.) of course picked up his knife during kiddush and with the greatest look of glee brandished his weapon around. Oh the horror! On the face of his sister, at least. And that’s when I really got the full sense of the irony of the holiday. We plan, G-d and little brothers laugh.
And so should we.