Contact Us

Dwelling in a Changing World

Dwelling in a Changing World

Let's Rejoice!

 Email

One of the lesser known aspects about the festival of Sukkot is its profound connection with water. While Rosh Hashanah has its water element (a short prayer at a body of water), and Yom Kippur has a water element of its own (the high priest's immersion into water five times on Yom Kippur in Temple times, and the current requirement of purification through water prior to the onset of the day), the holiday of Sukkot is connected with water even more deeply. The Talmud teaches that during the festival of Sukkot, the Almighty judges the world over its water. On the eighth day of the holiday, the opening of the final segment of the holiday, special prayers are offered, imploring on High to provide rain and sufficient water. Praying for rain is from now on a fixture in every single prayer until the holiday of Passover.

Is it possible that all this celebration and fuss was over the judgment of water?As a result of the judgment of water on Sukkot, the Talmud teaches (Rosh Hashanah 16a) that the Jewish people were required to add a water libation to the altar in the Holy Temple on each of the first seven days of Sukkot. The water was drawn from the Shiloach spring in Jerusalem on the preceding night, and it was done with incredible fanfare. There were celebrations, dancing and singing throughout each night of Sukkot—all night long. The celebration, called the "Beit Hasho'evah" celebration, is termed by the Talmud as the most joyous event ever. "Whoever has not seen the joy of the Beit Hasho'evah," says the Talmud, "has not quite experienced joy in his lifetime!"

Is it possible that all this celebration and fuss was over the judgment of water? And what, exactly, is the connection between the judgment of water and the festival of Sukkot?

A closer look at water provides the answer. Water presents an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, water is ubiquitous. We do everything with it, and we cannot survive without it. It is essential to life. And so it must be accessible always and everywhere a living being may be found. Water is therefore the epitome of stability and permanence.

On the other hand, water is a temporary and unstable commodity. It is always flowing away. The drop of water flowing down the river right now will be gone forever in a second. It has become "water under the bridge," never to return. As the waves recede back into their oceanic source, their waters intermingle with the vast body of the endless sea, gone from our eyesight forever.

Water, then, seems to be imparting a message: Despite the seeming consistency and omnipresence we display, we are also something that constantly changes and moves, never standing still. And despite the constant changes, we are consistently here.

A similar dichotomy is found regarding the celebration of the festival of Sukkot. On the one hand, the sukkah is designed to be a "dwelling place." The Torah commands the Jewish people, "In booths shall you dwell" (Leviticus 23:42). The commandment is to perform all the activities of "dwelling" in the sukkah-booth. It is meant to be a place where the Jewish person resides and inhabits, or fully dwells, for the seven days of the festival.

The flimsy roof is a constant reminder of how quickly this booth can cave inOn the other hand, this whole contraption is designed to last for but seven days. Living somewhere for a week, even dwelling somewhere, is almost like staying at a beach house, a hotel, or a relative's place for a week. There is hardly time to unpack. Moreover, the roof of this booth in which we dwell – the booth's most important feature – is constructed from detached branches, twigs and leaves. The flimsy roof is a constant reminder of how quickly this booth can cave in, and what will happen when rain, which always seems to say "hello" during this festival, drips its merry way into our fancy "dwelling places"…

Among the many reflections and messages of the festival of the sukkah-booths is one about the dichotomy of permanently changing. Following an exhilarating and uplifting High Holiday season, a time in which a Jewish person usually rediscovers and comes in tune with the most permanent phenomenon possible – his or her deepest soul connection with our Father in Heaven – the same Father encourages His people to transition into a week of dwelling in a most temporary of physical structures, engaged in the most temporal of pursuits, such as eating and relaxing.

It seems, then, that Sukkot is real life: Bubbling with life, like water flowing, and never remaining in one place. Constantly moving, and consistently changing; temporarily permanent and permanently temporary.

And so we rejoice when drawing the water on this festival. As the water flows on the festival of Sukkot, which is the festival of joy, we are reminded how fortunate and blessed we are to celebrate life with focus and verve: Never being too caught up in the ups or downs of life.

Ultimately, life is like a big wheel: it moves this way and that way. It settles sometimes on this rung or that rung, but never quite in the same place for long. What comes today is gone tomorrow, and what comes tomorrow may be here for longer or shorter, but never forever.

Sukkot is real life: Bubbling with life, like water flowing, and never remaining in one place Worrying about the current situation will get us nowhere. We are at our best when we remember the water and the booth, and count the blessings we do have. Let us focus on the wonderful blessings of health, children, the roof over our heads, friends, communities and all the wonderful things we know we have.

Besides, thankfully the wheel is about to turn upwards, and plunge us into the next cycle of consistent change, which will surely bring us more things about which to be happy and joyous.

Rabbi Yossi Lew is the assistant rabbi of Chabad-Lubavitch of Georgia.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
2 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Chaya S. Ft Lauderdale, Fl September 28, 2009

blessings Worrying is a waste of energy - counting our blessings is a worthy use of our time and energy. ... it is a positive force to move us forward. I am thankful for the many blessings I have been given especially my son, family, friends and community. Thank you G-d for all. Reply

pop jansen Omaruru, Namibia September 23, 2009

thank you Thank you. How important it is to break down the embankment of worries to let the water flow. I so clearly understand "sukkot"-"booth" and yes, the "fuss" over the "judgment of water" is sooooo very important. Reply

Related Topics
Kids Zone
Find Services
Videos
Audio Classes
Recipes