Get Real - Be Happy (The message of Simchas Beis Hashoeva)
Rabbi Yonason Abraham
Rabbi Caulfield Hebrew Congregation
"Vesamachta beChagecha, ata u'vincha u'vitecha...vehayisa ach sameach"
- and you shall rejoice on your festivals - you, your sons, your
daughter, etc, and you will be completely joyous(1). The Sefer
Hachinuch(2) makes the following observation in analysing the mitzva
of Simchas Yom Tov: "A person has an essential, natural, internal
need to be joyous at regular intervals - in the same way that he needs
food, rest and sleep. Hashem wanted to give us, His people, merit for
all our deeds. Therefore, He commanded us to designate that happiness
for His name. He determined the times of the festivals, when we
commemorate the miracles and favours that He bestowed upon us. At
those particular times, He commanded us to provide our physical beings
with things that are necessary to bring happiness."
Yomim Tovim in general, says the Sefer Hachinuch, are those Divinely designated times for the outer expression of our inner yearning for happiness. The essential human need is given both meaning and focus by being tied to a spiritual objective.
Interestingly, though this mitzva applies to all the Yomim Tovim, the Yalkut Shimoni (3) highlights the distinction between them in the Torah. There is neither direct reference to nor instruction regarding simcha mentioned in connection with Pesach; there is one reference to simcha on Shavuos; yet there are three such references in regard to Succos! The Yalkut explains that Succos coincides with both the immediate aftermath of Yom Kippur (when we receive atonement for our sins of the previous year), and the Chag Ha'asif (the season when both grain and fruit have been fully harvested and "gathered" into the home). Succos, therefore, elicits the highest feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction and thus simcha.
Simcha is indeed a vital and integral component in the service of Hashem. The Vilna Gaon (4) says that we find two different expressions for this emotion used in the Yom Tov davening: "moadim l'simcha, chagim u'zmanim l'sason - set times for happiness (simcha), festivals and seasons of joy (sason)." Are these words merely poetic meanderings? Are they unnecessary additional adjectives describing the same emotion in different vocabulary? Not at all!
Simcha, says the Vilna Gaon, refers to our inner stirrings and the experience of internal happiness. Sason, on the other hand, refers to the outward manifestation and expression of that sentiment. The inner emotions burst forth to affect the person's behaviour, to the extent that his joy is obvious to other people.
The Netziv (5) proves from the Midrash Rabba (6) that the word 'tachog' from the verse "tachog l'Hashem Elokecha - you should celebrate (the seven days of Yom Tov) to Hashem your G-d," actually stems from the word machog, meaning a dancing circle (7). This, writes the Netziv, indicates that feeling joy on Succos, per se, is insufficient. One is actually obligated to express joy through dance and celebration, demonstrating his absolute confidence that Hashem, in His mercy, granted him forgiveness on Yom Kippur!
This in itself begs the question: how can we mandate happiness? How are we expected to create an emotion and develop it into an all- encompassing experience on demand? How can we turn Succos into our own "zman simchaseinu - time of joy"?
In attempting to explore these points, one should view Succos through a different lens, to approach the Yom Tov through a portal that will allow him to gain a penetrative perspective. Let us try to understand the often-overlooked mitzva of nisuch hamayim - the water libation on the mizbeach (the altar in the Beis HaMikdash) - and its accompanying festivities.
The Mishna (8) describes the unique addition to the Succos daily sacrifices, that of a bucket of water, which was drawn from the Mei Shiloach, and poured onto the mizbeach throughout the seven days of Succos. On all other days of the year, only wine was offered with the korban tamid (daily sacrifice). Since Succos heralds the onset of the rain season in Eretz Yisrael, water was added to evoke Hashem's blessing for our water supply for the forthcoming year.
The additional requirement of nisuch hamayim was accompanied by the most joyous celebration, which would take place for the entire night preceding the drawing of the water. The actual drawing of the water was performed at daybreak, with great pomp and ceremony. The festivities were permeated with the highest form of spiritual experience, giving rise to unmitigated, sublime exaltation, singing, dancing, musical extravaganza and amazing feats of acrobatic and juggling skills.
The performances and activities were led by the greatest Sages and the most venerable tzadikim. The simcha of Beis Hashoeva - literally the place of drawing water - is described in the Gemara (9) as being unprecedented and unparalleled, anywhere and anytime. "He who has not seen the Simchas Beis Hashoeva has never in his life seen simcha!" The Talmud Yerushalmi (10) goes further to say that that the word shoeva - drawing - refers not only to the water that was drawn, but to the Ruach Hakodesh - Divine inspiration - that was available to be drawn from that most exquisitely inspiring and spiritually stirring simcha. The Gemara elaborates this in great detail.
Why all the fuss over a bit of water? Weren't there bigger, better offerings made on the altar? Why, indeed, was there any reason for celebrating the rain season, if it was also a time for judgement? Why was this the most celebrated aspect of the whole of Succos, rather than the arba minim (Four Species) or the succa itself?
Truthfully, although we have identified the celebration as being on account of the nisuch hamayim, not everyone seems to agree. The Gemara does state that the term shoeva - drawing - refers to the drawing of water, and Rashi (11) states that the whole simcha was in honour of the Nisuch Hamayim.
Nevertheless, the Rambam disagrees (12). He writes, "even though it is a mitzva to rejoice on all the Yomim Tovim, there was an extra simcha in the Beis HaMikdash on Succos, as it says 'and you should celebrate before Hashem your G-d for seven days.' And how did they do this...?" The Rambam proceeds to list every detail from the Mishna about Simchas Beis Hashoeva, with no mention of drawing the water! How can the Rambam take a ceremony that seems to be an integral part of nisuch hamayim, and describe it as part of the mitzva of Simchas Yom Tov on Succos?
The Sefer Hachinuch (13) seems to agree with the Rambam. He says, "...and to play musical instruments in the Beis HaMikdash and this is the Simchas Beis Hashoeva that is mentioned in the Gemara, all this we have mentioned is included in (the mitzva of) 'vesamachta bechagecha' - and you should celebrate on your Yomim Tovim, etc." How can Simchas Beis Hashoeva be described as Simchas Yom Tov? (14)
Perhaps what the Rambam means is the following: the celebration of Simchas Beis Hashoeva is undoubtedly linked to Nisuch Hamayim. The Rambam does not dispute this point. Rather, what the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch are teaching us, is that the very essence of nisuch hamayim (and its message) are inherently and inextricably bound to the central theme of the Yom Tov of Succos. Thus, celebrating nisucah hamayim is an expression of simchas Yom Tov, and its manifestation is the joy of Succos. Allow me to explain:
The Kelmer Maggid, in one of his stirring and fiery shmoozen, painted the following mental picture for his audience: imagine that Mashiach would come to the Beis Hachayim - the cemetery - and announce to all those buried there that they had been granted one hour of life...imagine the stampede that would follow, as all the "newly living" dash to the nearest Beis Hamedrash to learn, daven, and perform as many mitzvos as possible. No seductive material temptation or enticing conversation would be attractive enough to distract even one of those individuals for a slight moment. They were given one hour, and they were totally immersed in their opportunity to earn priceless zechusim - merits - for eternity. They would do this by investing every breath and every thought in spirituality and the fulfilment of mitzvos.
After describing the scene in vivid detail, the Kelmer Maggid turned to his audience with a roar and said, "und vos is az men hot mer vi ein sho - and so what if we have more than one hour? Un ver vaist zu men hot takke mer vi ein sho - and who knows that he certainly has more than one hour to live?!"
We can all imagine how exhilarated and motivated those individuals would feel, how unbelievably grateful to Hashem, to have been granted one extra hour of precious life. Yet, as we plod through our lives, how many of us take a moment to realise how fortunate we are to have the precious gift of life? We take many things for granted, with only the occasional (chas v'shalom) jolt stirring us somewhat. Then we recover, turn over, and return to our blissfully ignorant sleep! How presumptuous we are to send sharp, pointed question marks toward Heaven, when anything falls short of our expectations. There is so much to be grateful for and ecstatic about..."I'm alive! Thank you, Hashem!"
Imagine the unbridled joy and pleasure of a blind man whose eyesight is restored for just half an hour! He would see his family and experience the splendour of the world, the joy of a sunset, and the majestic beauty of a single flower. Yet we, who are able to see, have that gift but don't realise it!
The list of brachos we recite at the outset of davening every morning could (and should) provide us with this simcha and awareness! However, we are constantly exposed to and influenced by our material lifestyles, and we pursue empty, fleeting pleasures. These factors mean that our vision becomes obscure and distorted. We, at times, don't see the almost-full cup, because of the few drops that are missing! The Chovos HaLevavos (15) explains that the main reason we are not sufficiently aware of Hashem's presence, and His goodness towards us, is our constant preoccupation with our own petty needs. We take Divine gifts for granted, as we are accustomed to having them from early infancy.
Often, the greatest hindrance to attaining true simcha is our inability to appreciate what we have, and the opportunities we have been given to earn Olam Haba - our Eternity. Constantly pursuing unattainable, elusive dreams, is nothing more than dancing along to the tune of the Yetzer Hara. It is wasting our time on so little, with little happiness to show for it!
Succos, however, gives us a radically different perspective. After the spiritual avoda of Elul, the inspiration of Rosh Hashana, and the teshuva of Yom Kippur, we are commanded to keep our spiritual upliftment alive and to nurture it. We leave our own homes to live in temporary, humble abodes. We trade in our year-round values and valuables for true values and valuables, and this in reality is the greatest single source of simcha - true joi de vivre! Through Succos, we become aware of the greatness of life, and the opportunities for spiritual growth and fulfilment that abound in our daily lives. This is true simcha - not a superimposed feeling of merriment, but the simcha described by the Vilna Gaon (above). True inner joy comes from realising what lies within - the potential and opportunities we have - "ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu u'mah nayim goraleinu umah yafeh yerushaseinu."
Water is the ultimate symbol of human life and existence. The term 'gashmius' - materialism - is derived from 'geshem' - rain. The discovery of (what may be) water particles on Mars set the scientific world abuzz, with wild speculation about the possibility of microscopic living cells on Mars. Water is the most basic of our needs, common to human beings, animals and plants alike. No water no life. Period!
Yet, we are able to take this most basic material need and resource and, once a year, elevate it to the status of the highest form of human connection to Hashem (by placing it on the mizbeach). Is there anything as stirring as the realisation that even the most humble water, even the simplest person, can become central to the holiest service in the Beis HaMikdash?
This may be the deeper relevance of the great celebration of Simchas Beis Hashoeva, when we invest our lives with the reawakened promise of our unique potential; when we imbue our consciousness with the realisation of how much joy life really has (when understood in proper context).
Perhaps this is the reasoning of the Rambam and the Sefer HaChinuch. Whilst the Simchas Beis Hashoeva is associated with nisuch hamayim, the very message of nisuch hamayim is itself an integral part of the general simcha of Yom Tov, (changing into sason - 'ushavtem mayim b'sason' - an outer display of happiness) and thus is a fulfilment of 'usamachtem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem.'
While happiness cannot be mandated, Succos does far more than that. It provides a framework for leading us on a journey of self-discovery, to where simcha and sason always were but we never knew it - right there within us and our lives!
May we all merit to experience the true Simchas HaChaim this Yom Tov, ultimately leading to the highest, most elevated and exquisite experience of joy, when we can unite with all our brothers and sisters from around the world, at the Simchas Beis Hashoeva in the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash with the arrival of Mashiach, b'mheira b'yameinu, Amen!
1. Devarim 16:15 2. Mitzva 488 3. Page 654 4. See commentary Siach Yitzchak, Siddur HaGra 5. Ha'amek Davar, Devarim 15:16 6. Parshas Emor 7. See also Tosafos Yom Tov, Rosh Hashana 1:2, and his quote from the Radak in identifying the root of the Talmudic name of Chag for Succos. 8. Succa 48a 9. Succa 51 10. Succa 5:1 11. Succa 50a 12. Hilchos Lulav 8:12 13. Ibid. mitzva 488 14. See the pirush of the Brisker Rav in his Kuntres on moadim, and also Emek Bracha p109, for further discussion and insight into this issue. 15. In the beginning of Sha'ar Habechina
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