Guilt or Joy?

Friday, 21 October, 2016 - 1:30 pm

If you would just watch Woody Allen movies and read Bernard Malamud novels you might believe that Jewish guilt is one of the cornerstones of our belief system.  To kvetch and worry is a favorite Jewish pastime.  It is encoded in our DNA.

As the famous joke goes: How many Jewish mothers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? The Jewish mothers’ quick rejoinder is, “Don’t worry about us. We’d rather sit in the dark.”

But is it? Is guilt meant to occupy such a lofty pedestal in Judaism?


Sukkot is considered by the Torah as the Festival of our Rejoicing. Why are we so happy on Sukkot?

In fact, Sukkot is followed by Simchat Torah – considered the most joyous time of year in the Jewish calendar (with stiff competition from Purim)!

What’s the connection between Sukkot and Simchat Torah and joy?


In typical Jewish fashion, let’s ask another question to get to the answer.

Why are we (enlightened, twenty-first century Jews) celebrating an agricultural holiday? I can understand the importance of Sukkot in Biblical times. But, what’s the big deal about the harvest time in our day and age? In our global economy, I can walk into the supermarket and buy peaches at any time of year. It’s always harvest time!

Putting aside the tragedy of a generation of children raised with the impression that tomatoes grow on supermarket shelves, we indeed ought to explore the features of harvest.  The reason Sukkot is the most joyous festival is because the farmer would only truly appreciate the year’s produce once it was gathered into the silos. Before that, any number of issues could ruin his or her precious income. Once it was securely gathered – it was a time for great celebration.

The type of accumulation we are engaged in nowadays might be different, but the process and goals remain the same.

We are all aiming to harvest. For some of us, we are looking to accumulate wealth. Others are more focused on collecting nachas. Some of us are seeking prestige or wisdom.

So, when are you happiest? When you are searching for income, or when you see the money in the bank?

Now, if joy from material effects only arrives when we have the funds in our account, what does that say about spirituality?  If my goal is to be more considerate to my wife or spend at least ten minutes a day studying Torah, would I sense that joy when I’m working on it or when I’ve accomplished it?

And, what if – deep inside – you were seeking joy from the intangible, lofty currency of holiness – yet you were spending all your time amassing material riches and power?

It’s no wonder Jews implicitly feel guilty. We’ve been replacing one type of joy with the other.

Our faith places inordinate emphasis on seeking noble virtues. Capturing them brings joy. Supplanting them with something else may have brought the world the enigma of Jewish guilt.

Ironically, it’s the Jewish interest in finding joy that may have given birth to the phenomenon of Jewish guilt.


Sukkot celebrates not only the material harvest. It’s a festival that immediately follows Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It’s a time when we have gathered so much spiritually. We have earned a tremendous amount of sacred currency.

This is a real reason to celebrate. It’s a joy that knows no bounds.

And, this is why we celebrate the completion of the Torah after Sukkot. When we have accrued a huge treasure chest of holiness, it’s time to break out the dancing shoes!

This Simchat Torah, let’s celebrate together! Otherwise one of us may feel guilty…

Comments on: Guilt or Joy?
There are no comments.