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The Drawing of the Water

The Drawing of the Water

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The celebration that accompanied the water libation was called simchat bet ha-sho'evah - the celebration of the place of the drawing of water. The water used for the libations on the altar was drawn from the springs of Shilo'ach. These waters were referred to as "the waters of salvation," in fulfillment of the verse And you shall draw water in joy from the springs of salvation (Isaiah 12:3). The kings of the House of David were anointed at the springs of Shilo'ach, and it is they who bring salvation to Israel.

There was more to the celebration than the drawing of water. Whoever witnessed the joy which accompanied the pouring of the water, drew happiness for his soul and salvation from the travails of life. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Sukkah 5:1) notes: 

[Why is the celebration called] bet ha-sho'evah [the place of drawing]? From there one draws the spirit of holiness. The Talmud (ibid.) adds: Yonah ben Amitai was one of the pilgrims [who ascended to Jerusalem on the Festival]. He went to the simchat bet ha-sho'evah and the spirit of holiness rested upon him [and he became a prophet]. This teaches us that the spirit of holiness rests upon a person only when his heart is filled with joy.

The Sages (Sukkah 51 a) relate: One who has not witnessed the celebration of the bet ha-sho'evah has never seen real joy. In the evening after the first day of the Festival, they (the Priests and the Levites) would go down into the women's courtyard (of the Holy Temple) and make major renovations. 

They would attach metal struts to the walls of the women's courtyard in the places that had been prepared for that purpose and boards of wood were then laid onto the struts. They would thus prepare three balconies - on the south, east, and north sides of the courtyard. These balconies were used by the women. The men would stand in the courtyard below, [separated from the women] so that there would be no frivolity.

The entire courtyard was but a hundred and eighty-seven amos long and a hundred and thirty- five amos wide. Yet, miraculously, tens of thousands o f people were able to crowd in.

Golden lamps were placed in the courtyard, each fifty amos high (and some say they were a hundred amos high). Each lamp had four golden bowls on the top which were filled with oil and wicks. Each lamp had four ladders attached - a ladder for each bowl - and four young kohanim would climb up the ladders carrying pitchers containing thirty lug of oil which they poured into the bowls. 

hick wicks were used so that the lamps would give considerable light. The wicks were made from the worn out linen pants and belts of the kohanim. When the lamps were lit, there was not a courtyard in all of Jerusalem that was not illuminated by the light of the bet ha-sho'evah, for the Holy Temple was situated on the highest hill in Jerusalem and the lamps were tall and extended above the walls of the courtyard. So great was the illumination that a woman could stand in her courtyard (at night) and check grain by the light of the bet hasho'evah.

Men of piety and of good deeds would dance before those who had assembled for the celebration, with lit torches in their hands, singing songs and praises ...and while the Sages of Israel and her leaders and pious ones were celebrating in the courtyard of the Israelites, the Leviyim would stand below on the flfteen steps that led from the courtyard o f the Israelites to the courtyard o f the women and on the pavements between each step, playing their harps, lyres, cymbals, trumpets, and other musical instruments, singing songs of praise through the night.

Two kohanim would stand at the gate that separated the court of the Israelites and the court of the women, with trumpets in their hands. When the cock crowed (indicating that it was almost morning) they would sound a tekiah, a teruah, and another tekiah... When they [the kohanim who were sent to bring water for the nisuch ha-mayim] reached the courtyard, they would sound [another] tekiah, teruah, and tekiah. 

They proceeded sounding their trumpets until they reached the gate that led out to the east. When they reached the gate, they turned their faces toward the west and declared: "Our fathers who were in this place had their backs to the west and they faced east and would prostrate themselves eastward towards the sun. But our eyes are turned to G‑d.' R. Yehudah says: "They would repeat the phrase, 'We are G‑d's and our eyes are to G‑d."

The Rabbis taught: Some of them would say, "Fortunate are our younger years that we are not embarrassed by them when we are old. "This was said by the men of piety and good deeds. Others would say, "Fortunate are our later years for they have atoned for when we were younger." This was said by the penitents. And both of them would say, "Fortunate is he who has not sinned. And he who has sinned should repent and will be forgiven."

R. Yehoshua ben Chanina said: When we rejoiced at the simchat bet ha-sho'evah, our eyes saw no sleep. How was this possible [what took so much time]? The first hour [of the day] was the daily morning sacrifice. 

From there we went to pray, from there we went [to bring the additional] sacrifices [of the Festival], from there to the study hall, from there to eat and drink, from there to Minchah, from there to tile daily afternoon sacrifice, and from then on we were at the simchat bet ha-sho'evah.

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, OBM, was one of Israel's most acclaimed religious authors, whose books on the Jewish way of life and the Chassidic movement have become renowned. Text translated from the Hebrew by Nachman Bulman and Dovid Landseman.
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