No one has to convince us to pursue pleasurable experiences. If anything, we have to exercise restraint to desist at some point. What would motivate anyone to pursue “pleasureless” joys? In this armchair tour, we explore two genres of joy metaphorically captured in the wine and water libations on Sukkot in the Holy Temple.

A little background is needed about this fascinating ritual.

Generally, wine accompanied specificTo a parched soul, water can feel sublime sacrifices. The kohanim (“priests”) would pour wine libations into an aperture in the altar to accompany these sacrifices. On Sukkot, they would pour an additional water libation into a specially designated aperture on the altar, used only during this festival.1 The pouring of the water was accompanied by singing and dancing, and was a very joyous celebration that was called Simchat Beis Hashoeva—the joy of the water-drawing ceremony.

Compare wine and water. Wine is a pleasure to the palate and warms up our insides, while water is tasteless (we don’t hear anyone raving about its wonderful bouquet). On the other hand, to a parched soul, water can feel sublime in a way that the best wine will not. Sometimes, what we crave is refreshing, restorative water to slake our thirst ... like a Jew’s soul thirsts to reconnect to its G‑dly source.

These beverages, besides being functional and flavorful, also have an import on a soul level. Wine and water are metaphors for two paths to serve G‑d. We can serve G‑d the “wine way” or the “water way.”

Wine naturally leads to joy. We usher in the joy of Shabbat and holidays with a cup of wine. It has a ta’am—a real “flavor,” as we say in Hebrew and Yiddish. The word ta’am has a double meaning: both “taste” and“reason.” It’s a luscious blend, used to describe the enjoyable, rational way of connecting to G‑d.

Many mitzvahs are comparable to wine. They have a ta’am, an enjoyable “taste,” especially when we appreciate the light and delight of the mitzvah. There is a logical reason; they make sense. Thou shalt not covet makes moral sense. Holidays that commemorate historic events have a definite ta’am; we enjoy their flavor and appreciate their reasons. They are self-rewarding.

Then there are mitzvahs that we do without knowing why. G‑d did not offer any rationale for separating milk and meat. We do it without knowing the reason. When we do a mitzvah simply because we are accepting G‑d’s will (Kabbalat Ol),we are doing it like soldiers in the army, no questions asked. It seems to be an impoverished, dry action.

What joy is there in that? Isn’t joy associated with pleasure, passion and intellectual stimulation?

Admittedly, it’s more exciting to do things when we know just what we’re excited about. Imagine celebrating a holiday like Passover just because “G‑d said so.” Where’s the fun in that?

The Kabbalat Ol Wine naturally leads to joyroute seems counterintuitive, and yet this type of joy provides entry into Divine joy. It taps into the limitless reservoirs of the commander-in-chief. G‑d is infinite. Therefore, His joy is boundless; it is a supra-intellectual joy.2

The joy of the water ceremony had no physical pleasure basis. Its joy was completely spiritual, due only to G‑d’s command to “draw water with joy.”

In the water-drawing ceremony, we redirect our pleasure center, from self-centered to G‑d-centered. In doing so, we give up of ourselves to access something greater, breaking through all boundaries and barriers of creation.

A Way of Life

The wine libations were performed only during the daytime. But the water libations were halachically acceptable at night. This guides our attitude to life.

Serving G‑d with a comprehension-based approach works well for the “daytime.” When life conditions shine brightly as the day—and life make sense to us, and our connection feels real—it’s as enjoyable as agood wine.

But when we draw close to G‑d in the darkness of the night, in our struggles and challenges, unconditionally and joyfully, despite our lack of comprehension, the prophet Isaiah assures us the drawn waters will become wells of salvation.