Sukkos is the festival of happiness. The two prominent mitzvos of Sukkos are sitting in the Sukka and shaking the Lulav and Esrog.
What do these laws have to teach us about happiness?
The Ishbitzer notes that the mitzvah of Sukka is passive, fulfilled by sitting or sleeping; whereas the mitzvah of Lulav and Esrog is performed by actively gathering the items and waving them.
We have innate abilities we are passively born with, but there are also things we actively acquire through perspiration and perseverance.
This active/passive framework sheds light on various nuances in how we observe these laws. A stolen lulav does not fulfill the mitzvah; whereas there is no such thing as a stolen Sukka – you cannot embezzle something innate. It similarly follows that on Shabbos, the day we curtail creative activity, we observe Sukka, but not Lulav – all our creative activity can only hope to succeed with God’s blessing.
R’ Chaim Brown notes that we must actively gather the Lulav and Esrog, which is traditionally understood to symbolize the different kinds of Jews – unity is not something innate that we can take for granted; we must create unity through our actions.
To the Ishbitzer, happiness is when we synthesize our active and passive skills and talents into one cohesive whole – when we appreciate the gifts we are born with, change what we can, and accept what we can’t.
While we don’t control our starting points, we do control our trajectories from there.