During the time of the Temple, a unique form of offering was brought on the
Mizbe'ach, the Altar during Sukkos. Each morning of Sukkos, a water libation
was poured on the Mizbe'ach when the daily morning sacrifice (Tamid shel
Shachar) was brought. The pouring of the water, "Nisuch HaMayim" was
celebrated with much fanfare. From the evening before, masses of people would
congregate on the Temple mount to watch the great sages of the generation
dance, perform, and sing in celebration of the special event. Special mammoth
lamps were lit, whose lights illuminated the entire Jerusalem. This occurred
every single night of Sukkos, except for Shabbos and the first night. Our
sages wrote (Sukkah 51a) "Whoever did not see this celebration never saw a
celebration in his days." The celebration was known as Simchas Bais HaSho'eva
- The Rejoicing of the House of the Drawing (sho'ev meaning to draw water).
Why was a special offering of water brought on Sukkos? The Talmud (Rosh
HaShana 16a) writes that as the world is judged for water on Sukkos, we bring
a water offering so that the rains for the coming year should be blessed.
Another reason for why Sukkos is the holiday on which we have the Simchas
Bais HaShoeva is related to that which we discussed in the last post - Sukkos
occurs right after Yom Kippur in the harvest season. During the harvest
season, a person may become haughty and forget Hashem. This haughtiness
affects not only farmers, of course. The wise may take credit for their
knowledge and those of fine character may take credit for their graces. The
bottom line is that all we get, whether it be money, wisdom, or respect comes
from G-d. When people forget this, problems begin. One starts to think that
he is superior to another. A person may begin to form castes in his mind,
separating the population into categories of worth. All this does is create
strife and tension, and unity in Israel can not and will not exist when
people think this way.
On Yom Kippur, we all stand together and are judged. We ask G-d for
forgiveness. We beg for mercy. We affirm that we will not do those evil deeds
again. On Yom Kippur, I am no better than the next guy. I might be rich, but
maybe he is a better person...I am smart, but maybe she is more righteous
than I. The divisions which we may have created in our mind crumble. We
realize that all anyone has is from G-d, and that we are truly all the same.
The barrier to unity that our evil inclination erected comes down. On Yom
Kippur, we are one united people, and united we want to stay. On Sukkos, both
rich and poor move outdoors to temporary dwellings. We are all protected only
by G-d. Our unity is reinforced. We are one nation, all celebrating the
holiday of Sukkos together in glee.
G-d reminds us that He loves each and every one of us, regardless of what our
status appears to be on earth. Usually, wine is poured on the altar. Fine
wine is used. The vines are carefully nurtured, the grapes tenderly picked,
the wine masterfully squeezed and thoroughly filtered. It is the product of
toil and energy. On Sukkos, water is poured on the altar as well. Water is
plain. What you see is what you get. No work went into producing this water.
Yet, water is accepted upon the alter as is the wine. Plain water is on the
same standing as fine wine. The common denominator between these two is that
they must remain pure and adulterated. We may be like fine wine, the product
of much blood, sweat, and tears. We may be like water, simple and
straightforward. However, this classification, G-d is telling us, is
irrelevant, as long as we remain pure in thought and committed to His
service. If we remember that this is what is important, and that the
trappings are just that, it helps us realize that G-d is the one who gave us
the trappings in the first place. If this is our focus, unity is sure to stay.
Why is this a time to rejoice? When the water is poured on the altar, we all
see that Hashem accepts all of our service to Him, as long as it is done with
a pureness of heart. We can take solace in the fact that Hashem sees that we
do want to serve Him, and that the mitzvos we do are performed with that in
mind. Although our prayers might not be perfect and our observance sub-par,
if we tried with all our might to serve Hashem properly, our service is
readily accepted. The fact that Hashem sends us this message right after Yom
Kippur is cause for celebration.
Sukkos is a time to inculcate within ourselves the experience of Yom Kippur.
On Yom Kippur, we all stood together as equals, and asked Hashem for a good
year. We outwardly demonstrated that we know Hashem bestows upon us all the
good we get. This acknowledgment is also an affirmation of our belief that we
are truly one people, united in service of G-d. If we all reinforce these
lessons on Sukkos as G-d wants us to, we can be sure that this will indeed be
a good year for our brothers and sisters.