All Jewish festivals put emphasis on the sensation of joy, as we say in our prayers and recite in our Kiddush, “Festivals for rejoicing, holidays and seasons for gladness.”1 The holiday of Sukkos is particularly joyful; known, in fact, by its epithet, the “Season of Our Rejoicing.”2 Moreover, there are distinctive joyous events and mitzvos that take place during Sukkos, that enhance the Sukkos joy.

One of these events was the drawing of water for nissuch hamayim, the water-libations that were offered in the Holy Temple during Sukkos. These offerings took place in addition to the standard wine-libations that accompanied various sacrifices throughout the year.

The water would be drawn with extraordinary festivity,3 in accordance with the verse, “You shall draw water with joy from the wellsprings of deliverance.”4 Indeed, our Sages say, “He who has not seen the rejoicing of the water-drawing ceremonies has never in his life seen joy.”5

Why was the water-libation unique to the festival of Sukkos and what is the connection between the two?

Wine, too, is indicative of joy, for which reason our Sages say, “Songs of praise [to G‑d] are sung only when accompanied by wine.”6 Therefore the wine-libations, too, were joyful occasions.

However, the joy associated with wine-offerings was not pure and unadulterated spiritual joy, since wine by nature leads to physical joy.7 Thus, the spiritual joy of the service of wine-offerings mingled with the temporal joy that wine offers.8

Water, on the other hand,9 being flavorless and devoid of any alcoholic content, does not, in and of itself, bring man to a state of joy. The joy accompanying the water-offerings was thus wholly devoid of any physical, joy-inducing quality. Rather, the joy of the water-offering was completely spiritual in nature, emanating solely from G‑d’s command that “You shall draw water with joy....”

The joy associated with wine-offerings, coming as it did from wine whose joy has a physical basis, was consequently constricted by the confines of nature. The joy accompanying the water-offering, however, resulted solely from G‑d’s command. Since G‑d and His commandments are infinite, the resultant joy was boundless as well.

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In terms of man’s spiritual service, the joy of the wine-offerings refers to joy derived from contemplation, while the joy of the water-offerings alluded to a level within an individual that transcends understanding:

When a person apprehends the great privilege G‑d has granted him — the ability to elevate himself through the performance of mitzvos and become one, as it were, with G‑d — he is filled with joy. However, as this joy results from the person’s own inherently limited understanding, the joy is necessarily limited as well.10

When a Jew, however, achieves the quintessential and unbounded state of total self-sacrifice to G‑d, intellect becomes superfluous. In this essential state, as soon as the Jew becomes aware of a Divine command, he is filled with limitless joy — joy emanating from the soul’s limitless essence —a level that transcends the limitations of intellect.11

Herein lies the connection of the joy of the water-drawing with Sukkos:

The joy of Sukkos derives from the combined spiritual achievements of Rosh HaShanah, the Ten Days of Repentance, and most importantly, Yom Kippur,12 the day in which the Jew’s essence is entirely bound up with the Essence of G‑d.13

This essential and fundamental connection is revealed during Sukkos in the water-offering and in the joy accompanying the water-drawing — a joy of the Jew’s essence, a joy that transcends the bounds of intellectual limitation.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXIV, pp.246-249.