The Simchas Bais Hashoeva In Jerusalem
By Rabbi NOSSON DAVID RABINOWICH
The Reasons For The Rejoicing
The Mishna1 tells us about tho Celebration of the Place of Drawing Water (Simchas Bais Hashoeva) that one who did not sec it never saw rejoicing in his life! What is strange about this unusual celebration, which took place in the Temple the entire evening, every night of “Choi Ha’-Moed” is that there is no explicit mention in our Rabbinic sources as to the cause of all this great rejoicing. The great 11th century Talmud commentator. Rashi2 implies that the rejoicing was over the water libation , which took place early in the morning every day during Succos. Indeed the name “Shoeva” — drawing, would seem to suggest a connection with the “drawing up” of something. Rashi, therefore, conjectured that tho rejoicing was due to the drawing of the water.3
The Jerusalem Talmud,4 seems, however, to offer a different reason for all this rejoicing. The “Drawing” is an allusion to the Divine inspiration that the rejoicing participants would draw from the entire ritual of the water libation. Indeed, it was at this celebration, the Jerusalem Talmud claim8rthat the Divine spirit first descended upon the prophet Yonah.5
Along comes the great Rambam (late 12th century leading Spanish codifier and philosopher) and offers a third and novel understanding of the great rejoicing.6 He claims in his magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, that the actual cause for tho rejoicing was the Succos holiday itself, in connection with which tho Torah enjoins:7 “And you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days.” Although there is a commandment to rejoice on all tho holidays, during Succos the Torah commanded us to have a special rejoicing in the Temple as it says clearly in the verse: “before Hashem.”8 Indeed, the Rambam, in his detailed description of the rejoicing, does not use the term: “Celebration of the Place of the (Water) Drawing” at all! The Ram-bam’s approach, however, still leaves us perplexed. How does he explain the above term explicitly used in the Mish-nah? And, in historical reality, was there any connection between the “special rejoicing” of Succos and the “Water Drawing” ceremony?9
Why The Special Rejoicing On Succos?
A New Approach
During10 the year 2448 to creation, after the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt, they unfortunately committed an awful sin: The sin of the Golden Calf. They spent that entire summer, the month of Elul and the 1st ten days of Tishrei 2449 repenting. How and when did the Jewish people realize that G-d had accepted their repentance and that they were once again “the Chosen People”? The holy Gra11 has taught us that when the Jews began rebuilding the Tabernacle on the 15th of Tishrei,12 the “Clouds of His Glory” returned after being removed immediately after the sin of the Golden Calf. In fact, according to Rabbi Eliezer,13 that is precisely why we celebrate Succos by setting up booths and residing in their confines for seven days. It is to commemorate the “Clouds of dory” by which O-d protected His beloved Jewish people in the desert for 40 years. By returning the “Clouds of Glory” to the Jewish people, G-d was informing them that just as He was returning to them the “Clouds of Glory” so had He fully accepted their returning, Le. their repentance.
The Chosid, Rabbeinu Yonah, the great Spanish Halachist and philosopher of the 13th century, shared with us a very important insight into the commandment of Repentance. Hp says:14
“It is integral to the “Teshuva’ process that one displays his joy and the time for forgiveness arrives.” According to Rabbeinu Yonah, the joy of forgiveness and the feelings of guilt and anguish regarding their sins are two sides of the same coin in the pocket of a “Baal Teshuva” (a repentant person). The greater his joy at forgiveness, the more G-d appreciate* his original quiet, shame and anguish about his sins. “The guilt-feeling turns into joy at forgiveness” (Rabbeinu Yonah).
It is only natural then that on Succos of 2449, there must have been a tremendous amount of rejoicing and happiness. And this happiness was unique — different than the great joy and pleasure that usually accompanies the performance of a commandment or the natural rejoicing carried out on every holiday. The joy and happiness of that first Succos was on integral part of their repentance process. The more they were cognizant of G-d’s forgiveness of their sin and their newly-created intimacy with Him, the greater the need to display their overwhelming joy and satisfaction as they celebrated their new status.
It is no wonder then that on Succos of 2449 there was a special happiness in great abundance. Every year on Succos we commemorate the great rejoicing of that first very special Succos; the joy of repentance.15
1. Succah 5:1
2. Succah 42 b
3. Strong support for Rashi’s conjecture can be brought from the Gemara in Succah 50 b. When discussing the validity of the reading “Drawing.” the Gemara finds the following justification for that reading. The one who taught [in tho Mishsah] that the correct reading is “the Celebration of (Water) Drawing” is not in error for it is written (Isaiah 12-3): “And you shall draw water with rejoicing.”
4. In truth, the Jerusalem Talmud (Succah 5. 1; pg. SSa) actually only offers an alternative explanation of the specific word ’Drawing* in the Mishnah; one can. therefore, argue that this explanation is not necessarily the cause of the great rejoicing.
5. Perhaps one may suggest that the tremendous amount of rejoicing was a pre-requisite for coo to receive Divine inspiration See Rambam. “Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah” 7:4.
6. Hilchos Lulav 8:12
7. Leviticus 23:40
8. There might also be Halachic ramifications from the dispute between Rashi and the Rambam: see Rav Y.Z. Soloveitchik. Kuntrcs MChidushei Maran Riz Halevi. Jerusaledi.197d, pg. 68. – •:
9. For a possible approach to the Rambam-* unique understanding of the Rabbinic references to the rejoicing ceremony, see R’ Aryeh Pome-ranchik. Emek Bracha, Jerusalem. 1974 (3rd edition) pgs 109-110.
10. The following discussion is based upon a discourse by the Gaon HVRav Yitiehok Hutner, Pachad Yitzchak. Succos. Discourse #9. pp 182-188.
11. Commentary an Songs Of Songs.
12. The 11th day of Tishrei:
The 12th and 13th days;
The 14th day:
The 15th day:
13. Succah 11 b. Surprisingly and uncharacteristically, the ’Mechaber’ in the 1st chapter of Hilchos Succah. #525:1, quotes this opinion of R’Eliezer as the correct interpretation of the verse is Leviticus 23:42-44:
14. Sha’arei Teshuvah.
15. Indeed, the Gemara in Succoh notes that the “Baalei Teshuva’ had a very prominent role at the “Simchas Beis Ha’shoeva” ceremony. In the light of the above reason for the great rejoicing, this should not be surprising at all.
Rabbi Nosson David Rabinowich will be scholar-in-residence at the Paramount /Best Western Hotel on Succos.