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Questions and Answers on Simchat Beit Hashoeivah

Questions and Answers on Simchat Beit Hashoeivah

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"ושאבתם מים בששון ממעיני הישועה"
“You shall draw water with joy from the wellsprings of deliverance.” (Isaiah 12:3)

QUESTION: In the times of the Beit Hamikdash there were nisuch hayayin — wine-libations — offered on the altar throughout the year. On Sukkot there were also nisuch hamayim — water-libations. The Gemara (Sukkah 48b) relates that there was once a Sadducee (Tzedoki) Kohen who poured the water libations over his feet whereupon all the people pelted him to death with their etrogim.

[The Sadducees accept only the Torah Shebiketav — Written Torah — but deny the Torah Shebe’al Peh — Oral Torah. The water-libation is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, but only by an allusion, from which our Sages (see Ta’anit 3a) derived the obligation.]

If the Sadducees deny the principle of water-libation, that particular Kohen should not have poured at all; why then did he pour the water over his feet? Moreover, if someone alters the Temple-service, he incurs “death by the hand of Heaven,” or he is subject to the rule that “the zealous may attack him.” Why, was he pelted by “all the people?”

ANSWER: There are two basic approaches to serving Hashem:

1) Ta’am vada’at — “reason (lit. “taste”) and understanding” — serving Hashem based upon rational apprehension of the significance of a mitzvah and the profundity of the Divine revelation achieved by performing it.

2) Kabalat ol — absolute submission to perform the will of Hashem regardless of whether the significance of the mitzvah is understood.

Wine has a flavor, while water on its own does not. Therefore, one must precede wine drinking with a berachah even if one is not thirsty, while over water a berachah is made only if one drinks to quench thirst (Orach Chaim 204:7), as only then will one enjoy the taste.

Wine and water are analogous to these two approaches to serving Hashem. Wine represents the approach of ta’am vada’at — comprehension — and water represents the approach of kabalat ol — simple submission.

The Sadducee Kohen advocated serving Hashem based on understanding and rejected the approach of doing mitzvot when one has no idea what they accomplish. Consequently, this Kohen venerated the wine libation throughout the year, but scoffed at the water libation, pouring it over his feet instead of the altar.

The message he implied was that only the simple people, who are compared to feet and who have no minds of their own, should serve Hashem based on kabalat ol, but intellectuals should serve Hashem based on their understanding.

Moreover, his attitude was that being a Kohen in the Sanctuary and serving G‑d, he did not need kabalat ol himself. On the other hand, he poured the water over his feet to indicate that he is a source for instructions to be obediently accepted by the “six hundred thousand footmen of the people.”

For this reason “all the people pelted him,” i.e., the simple folks as opposed to the Kohanim. In truth, those blessed with intellectual capacities employ also kabalat ol as a Yesod — foundation of their avodah. As intellectuals, however, they do not stress that avodah based on reason by itself is insufficient. Thus, they will have a problem in refuting the argument that there is no need for kabalat ol and that reason suffices by itself. The simple folks, however, (whose entire service of Hashem is in a form of kabalat ol) hearing the suggestion that there is no need for kabalat ol, sensed immediately that this kind of attitude contradicts the Divine Will, and they pelted the Sadducee to death for his heretical philosophy.

(לקו"ש ח"ב ע' 425)


"מי שלא ראה שמחת בית השואבה לא ראה שמחה מימיו"
“He who did not see the rejoicing of Beit Hasho’eivah, never saw rejoicing in his lifetime.” (Sukkah 51a)

QUESTION: What was so special about the rejoicing of Simchat Beit Hasho’eivah?

ANSWER: In describing the details of Simchat Beit Hasho’eivah, the Gemara (Sukkah 51a) says that everyone — men and women — would gather in the Beit Hamikdash. “There were golden candelabras fifty cubits high with four golden bowls for oil on top of each and four ladders to each. Young Kohanim would climb up each ladder carrying a pitcher containing thirty lug of oil...and when they lit the lamps the entire city of Jerusalem became illuminated. Heads of yeshivot, members of the Sanhedrin, pious men, and men of good deeds would clap, sing, and act joyously and the general populace would come to watch and listen.”

Indeed there are many simchot in the Jewish community where the setting is exquisite, the palate is treated to the most sumptuous and exotic foods, the ears are regaled by the most lively music, but still the simchah is incomplete. After careful analysis, one can see the fragmentation of the community. One cannot help but notice that not all segments of the community are participating, and still others are present as a result of coercion. The youth does not respect the elders and the elders do not have a common language with the youth. The“simchah” may evoke anxiety and apprehension rather than happiness and unity.

At Simchat Beit Hasho’eivah the people who set the mood were the rashei yeshivah, chassidim, and men of good deeds, and the young illuminated the area under their tutelage and guidance. Simchah in which unity and respect are evident is profound and true simchah.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)


"ניסוך המים – ניסוך היין"
“Water and wine libations”

According to halachah (Rambam, Temidim Umusafim ch. 6) “Nisuch hamayim kol shivah — “the water libations were done all seven days of Sukkot. Thus, on the first night of Sukkot water was drawn for the morning libation. Nevertheless, the enhanced simcha — joy — that accompanied the water drawing started with the second night (the night of Chol Hamo’eid), when it was permissible to play musical instruments.

A distinction between water libations and wine libations was that the obligation for the wine libations commenced after the sacrifices were brought and the water libations could be done during the night, prior to the sacrifices of the day.

This is because the water libations are chovot hayom — an obligation connected with the days of Yom Tov and Halachically day starts at evening. Wine libations are chovot hazevach — an obligation connected with the sacrifices — and since they can be offered only during daytime, the requirement of the wine libations commences during the day once the sacrifice is offered.

The rationale for this distinction is that wine is analogous to the method of serving Hashem al pi ta’am v’da’at — based on understanding — while water represents the kabolat ol — serving Hashem through absolute submission (see p. 290).

An avodah based on reason is possible only when there is “light” in the mind, when one properly understands and feels. One can serve G‑d with “rational considerations” only in that kind of condition. An avodah of kabalat ol, however, is possible even at night-time, even when there is no light shining yet in him: he disregards everything and accepts upon himself the yoke of the Divine sovereignty.

Kabalat ol is the foundation of avodah. Nonetheless, the intellect, too, must be submitted to G‑dliness. An avodah of rational apprehension, however, can develop only after an initial kabalat ol. That is why the libation of water (nisuch hamayim) is the first thing [on Sukkot], applicable from the very beginning of the festival, and only thereafter one can — and must — undertake the avodah of rational apprehension, i.e., nisuch hayayin (the libation of wine).

(לקוטי שיחות ח"ב ע' 425 ועי' משך חכמה פ' פנחס)


"ומנחתם ונסכיהם"
“And their meal-offerings and their libations.” (Bamidbar 29:18)

QUESTION: According to the Gemara (Ta’anit 2b) there were water libations on the altar during the Sukkot festival which are alluded to in the portion discussing the Sukkot offering through three extra letters which spell "מים" — “water.”

1) On the second day, it is written “veniskeihem” (ונסכיהם) — “their libations,” in plural. The "ם" is superfluous since for plural it could have said “unesachehah” (ונסכיה).

2) On all the other days it is written “veniskah” — “its libation” — in singular (ונסכה). Only on the sixth day does it say “unesachehah” — “its libations” — in plural with an added "י" (וּנְסָכֶיהָ).

3) Each day it says “kamishpat” (כמשפט) — “as required” — except that on the seventh day it says “kemishpatam” (כמשפטם) — “in their requirements” — containing a superfluous ."ם"

Why were there water libations during the festival of Sukkot?

ANSWER: According to some opinions, the Akeidah took place on Yom Kippur. (See Rakanti and Seder Hadorot 2075.) From Avraham’s home to the land of Moriah was a three-day journey (Bereishit 22:4); thus, Avraham returned from the Akeidah on the 13th day of Tishrei. On that day he was informed of Sarah’s passing and Rivkah’s birth.

Three years later, Avraham directed his faithful servant Eliezer to seek a suitable wife for Yitzchak. Eliezer arrived in the city of Aram Naharayim and planned to test the girls of the city. The one whom he would ask for a drink of water and who would also offer water for his camels would definitely be good-natured and suitable to marry Yitzchak.

The day Eliezer arrived, he engaged Rivkah to be the wife of Yitzchak, and at that time she was three years and three days old (Mesechta Sofrim 21:9). Thus, this episode took place on the fifteenth of Tishrei, the first day of Sukkot.

To commemorate the marriage of Yitzchak, which resulted through an act of kindness performed with water, there are water libations on the altar during the festival of Sukkot.

(הקדמת בן המחבר "ידי משה" על מדרש רבה)

* * *

When Eliezer met with Rivkah’s family, he told them “I came today to the spring” (Bereishit 24:42). The Gemara (Sanhedrin 95a) says that he was telling them that although the trip should have taken seventeen days, the earth contracted, enabling him to come from Be’er Sheva to Aram Naharayim in less than one day.

Why was it necessary for him to tell them this?

According to halachah there are limits as to how much one may walk on Shabbat and Yom Tov from the outskirts of a city. Exempted from this restriction is a case in which the earth contracts (see Eiruvin 43a).

Since Eliezer arrived on Sukkot, in order to avoid suspicion for violating halachah he told them that the earth contracted, facilitating his journey.

(פרדס יוסף, ויקרא כ"ג, מ')


"עלה אל הר העברים הזה הר נבו. ומת בהר...והאסף אל עמך כאשר מת אהרן אחיך בהר ההר ויאסף אל עמיו"
“Ascend to this Mount of Abarim, Mount Nebo. And die on the mountain where you will ascend and be gathered to your people, as Aharon your brother died on Mount Hor, and was gathered to his people.” (Devarim 32:49-50)

QUESTION: The words “vehei’aseif el amecha” — “and be gathered to your people” — are redundant since it already says “umut behar” — “and die on the mountain.” Also, the words “vayei’aseif el amav” — “and he was gathered to his people” — are redundant, since it says “meit Aharon” — “Aharon died”?

ANSWER: Rashi says that when Moshe witnessed the death of Aharon, he desired a similar death for himself and said, “Lucky is the one who dies such a death.” What was so special about Aharon’s death?

During the festival of Sukkot there are Ushpizin — guests — who visit the sukkah. According to Kabbalists (Arizal), Avraham comes on the first day, Yitzchak on the second, Yaakov on the third, Moshe on the fourth, Aharon on the fifth, Yosef on the sixth, and David on the seventh.

Aharon passed away on Rosh Chodesh Av (Bamidbar 33:38), which always occurs on the same day of the week as the fifth day of the festival of Sukkot when Aharon is the “Ushpizin.” Thus, the day of the week Aharon comes as a guest visiting K’lal Yisrael is the same day of the week as his yahrtzeit.

Moshe desired a similar death. Namely, that the fourth day of Sukkot when he visits the Sukkah should be the same day of the week as his yahrtzeit, the seventh day of Adar.

The Yom Tov of Sukkot is known as Chag Ha’asif — the Festival of Ingathering” (Shemot 23:16). Hashem said to Moshe, “I am going to grant you your wish. Go up on the mountain and die, vehei’aseif el amecha” — “and be gathered to your people.” Hashem thus hinted that his yahrtzeit would be on the same day of the week as his visit to his people in the Chag Ha’asif: “Just as Aharon your brother died on Hor Hahor and vayei’aseif el amav — and the day of the week when his yahrtzeit occurs is also the day of week when he comes as a guest to his people during the Chag Ha’asif.”

(טעמי המנהגים בשם ספר שער יששכר, מונקאטש)

* * *

It is interesting to note that the fourth day of Sukkot is always on the same day of the week as the Lag BaOmer preceding it.

Reb Shimon bar Yochai possessed Moshe’sneshamah. Hence, when Moshe visits K’lal Yisrael on the fourth day of Sukkot, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai accompanies him.

(שער יששכר)

Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky has been a pulpit rabbi for over thirty years, and is author of more than ten highly acclaimed books on the Parshiot and holidays. His Parshah series, Vedibarta Bam, can be purchased here.
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