It’s Friday night, you are invited to a friend’s home for the Shabbos meal. The table was set before chatzos, the children listen attentively to Kiddush and sit quietly at the table throughout the meal. The delicious food was served by the wife as the husband engaged the children in zemiros and divrei Torah. The husband complimented the wife before proceeding to clean up the table. Everything seems perfect and their peaceful marriage is enviable.
“If only our Shabbos table could look like this,” you think to yourself. I could go on and on depicting other scenarios where we find ourselves wishing our lives could be like the family next door. While sometimes envy serves as a positive motivator for growth and change, it is more often is a symptom of dissatisfaction with our lot and a lack of inner peace. Sukkos is an opportune time for us to learn how to achieve inner peace. It commemorates our journey through the midbar under the protection of the annanei hakavod. These Clouds of Glory were in the merit of Aharon haKohen, the consummate peacemaker. The Sukkah itself is referred to as a sukkah of peace, sukkas shalom, as we ask Hashem in our evening prayers “ufros alenu Sukkas shlomecha”, spread upon us Your Sukkah of peace. What lessons can we learn from the Sukkah that will help us experience peace in our lives?
The Root Cause of Jealousy
Hillel (Pirkei Avos 1:12) implores us to be like the students of Aharon: “Oheiv shalom v’rodeif shalom, oheiv et ha b’riyos u-m’karvan la-Torah,” loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them closer to Torah.The commentators explain that Aharon would make peace by approaching the warring parties and telling them that the other desires to make peace. Although one is allowed to alter the truth for the sake of peace (Yevamos 65b), how is it possible that Aharon’s “career” of peacemaking was built on falsehood? The Koidenover Rebbe explains homiletically (Mattos/Masei 5761) that deep down inside, every Jew wants and desires to serve Hashem and love his fellow. The reason jealousy exists is not due to genuine contempt for the other; rather it stems from a feeling that our friend’s success takes away from our success. In other words, we feel that our friend took what belongs to us. On a deeper level, Aharon was able to make peace because he was able to show everyone that they have their own unique way of serving G-d. By bringing them to their individual portion in Torah, they no longer had any desire to be jealous as they realized that which their friend had was entirely irrelevant to their personal mission. Aharon’s peace efforts began by bringing each person closer to their portion in Torah, m’karvan l’Torah. Once he accomplished that, they naturally were able to love their fellow, ohev es hab’riyos.
When we are happy with what we have, we have no reason to be jealous. Yet, we do not have Aharon haKohen to help get us in touch with our inner mission. How do we go about feeling content with our lot in life?
Finding Inner Peace
If we return to our original example of the Shabbos table or any other scenario where you are comparing your situation to that of others, it is crucial to take time and reflect on why this grating on your nerves. Why do I have such intense feelings of envy? As you think back on your own upbringing and life experiences you may begin to see the connection between the past and your current longings. You could also choose to process your feelings in another manner by questioning the very premise of your thoughts. How much are you imagining and how much is real? Is your neighbor’s life so perfect that you would like everything they have, including their challenges? Do you know what goes on behind closed doors? While the grass may seem greener on the other side, upon further examination you may discover that every family has their own worries, struggles, and challenges and that although their life may appear rosy on the outside, on the inside the picture may be rather different. We often walk around thinking we are the only one with problems. It is refreshing when we realize that the family next door is just like us.
Ultimately, if we are not able to get in touch with our triggers or cannot effectively debunk our unrealistic assumptions about others, our only recourse is emunah, the faith that Hashem does not give us anything we can’t handle; rather He gives us exactly what we need to fulfill our mission in this world. If we are blessed with children, we are G-d’s caretakers for these special souls. We were uniquely chosen as the ones who can best bring out their potential and help them grow. We also grow in the process through becoming more attuned to our children’s needs and stretching beyond our natural tendencies. The same applies to your marriage. Your spouse is the one who can bring out the best in you and challenge you to become more complete. While you may experience growing pains, this person was uniquely chosen for you. (We are discussing the normal conflict that couples experience, not abuse). Hashem knows what is best for us and what we need to fully actualize our potential. While we may strive and work hard to achieve what we think we need or want, it is ultimately G-d that will determine the outcome. If we are able to instill that faith within us, we can begin to feel at peace with ourselves.
Sukkos is a time when we leave our home for our diras arai, the temporary dwelling of the Sukkah. It is a time to reflect on what we have and who truly gives it to us. It is no wonder that the Zohar (Emor 103a) refers to one who sits in the Sukkah as one who sits in the Tzila dimhemnusa, the “shelter of faith.” As we sit in the shelter of emunah this Sukkos, may we be enveloped by and experience the sukkah of peace in all of our relationships.