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Kehilla Israel Rabbi Emeritus
Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D.


Click here to read Rabbi Reuben's new book A Year with Mordecai Kaplan: Wisdom on the Weekly Torah Portion

Sukkot - Gratitude


 “You shall rejoice in your festival, with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the family of the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in your communities.” - Deuteronomy 16:14


D’rash – Kaplan’s Insight

“The Sukkot festival, with its emphasis on joyous gratitude or happiness, is a protest not against civilization, but against its tendency to be a destroyer of happiness.” – Mordecai M. Kaplan

Kaplan understood Jewish tradition to teach that happiness was a prerequisite to entering into a conscious relationship with God. He referred to the talmudic teaching in Shabbat 30b, “The Divine Presence is not made manifest to human beings through sadness but through joy,” to impart that cultivating happiness itself is integral to a spiritual life.  And since Jewish tradition refers to Sukkot as z’man simḥataynu, “the time of our joy,” he saw Sukkot itself as the annual opportunity to celebrate “joyous gratitude,” which in itself is one of the keys to happiness in life. Each year, Sukkot allows us to link the natural joy and gratitude we experienced in our freedom from oppression in Egypt with our experiences of gratitude for the miracles of our lives today. 

Kaplan also points to the Midrash in Leviticus Rabbah 9:7 in which the Rabbis say, “In the end of days [when the messiah comes] all sacrifices will be abolished except the offerings of gratitude, and all prayers will be abolished except prayers of thanksgiving.”  For both the Rabbis and Kaplan, the essence of Judaism is found in our everyday experiences of godliness as expressed through gratitude and joy.

Living our lives in gratitude is always an act of faith. Thus Kaplan wrote, “We must have indomitable faith in human nature, if we are not to be embittered by its savageries.”[i] He understood that attitude is everything. If we chose to pay more attention to the evil than the good in the world, we can become disillusioned and embittered. The choice is always ours. Each year Sukkot presents us with the opportunity to choose the good, choose the blessings, choose the happiness, and choose the gratitude for what we have and who we are.


D’rash – A Personal Reflection

Who is Rich?

One of the greatest gifts of traveling to other countries is remembering that wherever we live isn’t the center of the universe.  It’s easy to be ethnocentric, assuming our town, state, or country is the best, richest, most advanced in the world.

Because of this ethnocentric view, many Americans take it for granted that we must be the happiest people in the world as well. Yet many studies of global happiness have found that Americans fall far lower on the happiness scale than citizens of many other much less affluent countries. For example, in Columbia University’s 2015 World Happiness Report, the US ranked thirteenth out of fifty-three countries; the happiest country was Denmark.

Whenever Didi and I travel abroad, we see this ourselves. People in virtually every country on earth live lives of great joy and satisfaction, regardless of how affluent they are or how many “things” they possess.  In fact, one of the reasons that more possessions don't necessarily equate with more happiness is that no matter how remarkable or valuable those possessions are, human beings become quickly bored with what they have. After two thousand years we still have not learned the profound wisdom of Ben Zoma, who taught in the Talmud tractate Avot 4:1, “Who is rich? The one who rejoices in what he (or she) has.”

            Years ago, Didi and I spent a few days in Rome. It was incredibly hot and uncomfortable. Every day we complained of the heat and spent almost all our time shopping just so we could be inside air-conditioned stores. We got so distracted by the heat that we forgot how amazing it was that all the while we were moaning we were in Rome, not California!

Even when we human beings try to bring an ever-present awareness of thankfulness into our lives, we can fall short.  That is why I am always thankful for Sukkot, the time of year when we are challenged to bring the attitude of gratitude into our lives every day.





Wed, October 23 2019 24 Tishrei 5780