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Water on Sukkot

Water on Sukkot

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Why was the water libation ordained specifically for the festival of sukkos. Why was the fulfillment of being joyous on the Festival associated with the water libation? Why did the pious and righteous rejoice more at the simchas beis ha-sho'evah than at other times?

Man knows perfect joy only when he cleaves to the source of his life. This is especially so if one is separated from his source and then returns to it. And such is Israel: their very life consists of cleaving to their essence - the source of all life in the universe. They know that nothing which they possess is their own, but that it is God alone Who bestows life and goodness upon them. Even if they are filled with Torah, mitzvos, and good deeds, this too is but an act of grace which God does for them to provide them with a source of merit.

As long as Israel remembers this, they remain attached to their source. But if - Heaven forbid - they become arrogant at heart and forget God, and the ignorant among them claim, "It is our efforts that have provided us with all of our bounty," and the righteous claim, "It is our piety that has provided us with all this good," and those who toil in Torah study claim, "It is all a result of our wisdom for we have acquired understanding" - at such times, the very existence of the nation is in danger, for they have cut themselves off from the essential source of their existence. Even their Torah and mitzvos do not avail them, for their very study and their pious actions are steeped in arrogance, and arrogance is abhorred by God. Moreover, arrogance leads to strife; one claims that he is superior to another, or the other claims some are inferior to him. But God hates strife and loves only harmony.

During the entire year, the yetzer ha-ra within man seeks to enter his heart and pollute his service of God. It seeks to inculcate pride into those who serve God and study His Torah, to cause every person to stumble and sin - each person according to his level. Every tune the yetzer ha-ra is successful in rooting itself into man's heart, it causes dissension among Jews and separation between Israel and God.

When Yom Kippur comes and Israel achieves purification, the yetzer ha-ra loses dominion over them. Love and harmony return between Jews and the barriers that have separated Jews from their Father in Heaven are also removed.

When Sukkos arrives, every Jew-great and simple-enters the sukkah, and comes into the shelter of the Shechinah. On the morning of the Festival they all arise to take the esrog, lulav, hadas, and aravah - the mitzvah of the four species is fulfilled simultaneously by the elders, the Torah scholars, the pious, and simple, ordinary Jews - forming a bond of unity to fulfill the will of God. The esrog, more beautiful than all of the other species, symbolically stands by the side, showing its humility. At that point the dominion of the Evil Inclination is completely removed from Israel and they return wholly to cleave to their source - to eternal life. Every man of stature prostrates himself before Him, every heart is filled with awe for Him, and every man's very being sings out and declares, "You have chosen us from among all nations, You have loved us and desired us."

"You have not chosen us because we are more numerous than others, or because of our righteousness or our wisdom. Only because of Your love for us - an abiding love which is not dependent upon anything. What can man do on his own? And if he is righteous, of what benefit is this for You? Because You desired us - not because of our merits - we are all equal in Your eyes. We should all therefore see each other as equals, love each other wholeheartedly with a love that is not dependent upon anything and which will last for eternity."

God answers Israel through the allusions inherent in the water libations: "How precious are all of the sacrifices which you offer through the year - and the most precious of all is the water libation you sprinkle on this Festival. You shall draw water in joy, for this offering requires no effort on the part of the one bringing it. At the foot of My House I have given you a well of salvation, the waters of Shilo'ach. This requires no planting, no reaping, no pressing, no purifying, no filtering, no fermentation - no effort at all. This offering is pure, free of all traces of pride, arrogance, and conceit. Three lugin you draw from the wells of My salvation, and you pour them on the altar together with the wine libation, which requires planting, harvesting, pressing, refining, filtering, and fermentation. When they ascend together it is as if you had offered me your all. My love for you is unconditional, and your wine and water are equal in my eyes. The fruit of your labor is equal to that untouched by effort, and you must only rejoice in me as I do in you, with unconditional love."

And thus the men of piety and men of action, the elders and the leaders whose entire lives are an altar of atonement, know no greater joy than the celebration of the water libation, for they understand that all their exertion in the service of God throughout the year rises to be accepted by Him like the water libation which they now bring in love.

Moreover, at that hour, all existence aspires and ascends with them - their fellow Jews and every living being - all that exists is uplifted through the water libation. Wine libations are reserved for the Jews and can be rendered unfit if touched by a gentile, but water remains eternally pure for all mankind, for its source is pure. Water preceded the creation of the earth, and when the earth was destroyed in the Flood, the waters were not, but remained pure.

Therefore, [God ordained]: "Pour water for Me so that you be blessed with water." As the Sages said: "On the Festival they are judged regarding water." And when the earth is blessed with water, all of mankind is blessed - both Israel and the nations. [God says:] "I have made you into a kingdom of kohanim for all the nations. Offer a sacrifice before Me which is rooted in the Creation and let every creature be blessed thereby."

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.
Excerpted from: The Book of Our Heritage. Published and copyright by Feldheim Publications.
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