Impression of the water offering on Sukkot by the Temple Institute, Jerusalem. (Youtube) (Youtube)
water-offering-on-sukkot

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Sukkot reminds us to keep the theme of unity. It reminds us that all are equal in God’s eyes.

Our sages teach us that Sukkot is the happiest of all biblical holidays. Sukkot is action packed. From the building of the Sukkah to the shaking of the “Four Species” to dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah….there isn’t a dull moment!

Here’s another reason for all the happiness and excitement on Sukkot with which you may not be familiar.

During the era of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, there was a very unique offering at the altar on almost every morning of Sukkot: the Nisuch Hamayim (water libation). Not wine. Water. We’ll see why soon. But the water libation was an indescribable celebration of the highest order.

The celebration would begin the evening before the water libation took place. Every night, the water for the next morning’s offering was drawn from a specially designated spring. The drawing of the water was celebrated with much fanfare. As our sages tell us, “Whoever did not see this celebration never saw a true celebration in his life.” The celebration was known as Simchat Beit Hasho’eva (Rejoicing of the Drawing [of the water]).

Beginning the evening prior, people would throng to the Temple Mount to watch all the community leaders and rabbis dance, perform, juggle and sing in celebration of the special event. The entire city of Jerusalem was aglow. Dancing was everywhere. (My guess is that since it was a Jewish event, there was probably lots food too!)

Why a Water Offering on Sukkot?

We are told that God judges the world with regard to how much rain the world will receive (especially in Israel). Hence, we bring a water offering to express our prayers for much-needed rain. It is also noted that Sukkot is observed right after Yom Kippur, at a time that has always been the traditional “harvest season.” When a person is harvesting his bounty, the work of his hands, it is quite possible for him to become haughty and believe that his wealth is solely the result of his hard work and to forget that God had a major part in it. Then it leads to a person feeling superior to the guy who harvested a few bushels less. We have to remember that everything we have is from Him. A person who forgets this has some major problems in his thinking.

On Yom Kippur we ask forgiveness for our sins, saying that all men are created equal that everything we have comes from God. Sure, you may be richer, or smarter, or happier than the guy beside you on Yom Kippur, but trust me, there are those out there that enjoy blessings that you don’t have. Don’t get haughty.

This is why we leave our homes on Sukkot and live in a Sukkah. Whether you’re rich or poor, you’re in the hut, just like everyone else. Sukkot reminds us to keep the theme of unity. It reminds us that all are equal in God’s eyes.

And that’s why we have the water libation! Usually wine is poured on the altar, not water. Unlike wine, water is plain, clear and cheap. Water is what you see is what you get. H20. Nothing more, nothing less. God reminds us on Sukkot that although we might think that we’re “fine wine,” every person has to remember that he is equal to everyone else. When people realize that all were created equal before God, a theme represented with the water libation, how can you not celebrate?

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

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