July 19, 2024
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Zman Simchateinu: What We Celebrate

Zman Simchateinu

Though there is a mitzvah of simcha on all Yamim Tovim, only Sukkot is described as “zman simchateinu, the time of our joy.”’1 The Torah mentions the word simcha only four times in reference to the Yamim Tovim. Three of them2 refer to Sukkot. The famous and often sung words refer specifically to Sukkot.3

The simplest explanation of the Sukkot simcha is that we celebrate the successful harvest Sukkot, otherwise known ad Chag Ha’asif, the harvest festival4 which marks5 the occasion.

Lifnei Hashem

Though similar to the harvest celebrations of other cultures, ours differs in that it focuses on the Beit Hamikdash6. We celebrate lifnei, before, Hashem because we realize that He is the cause of our success. Much like the mitzvah to bring bikkurim,7 on Sukkot we use products of the harvest to praise8 and thank9 Hashem for our success. We remember how Hashem cared for us in the desert and realize that he continues to do so today.

Simchat Beit HaShoeva: Celebrating the Water Libation

The focus of our joy in the Beit Hamikdash was the Simchat Beit HaShoeva, the Water Libation Celebration.10 Throughout each night of Sukkot, the people celebrated the water just drawn from the Shiloach spring before pouring it out on the mizbeach the next morning. This simcha was so unique that Chazal describe it as qualitatively greater than any other11.

Why was this ritual, which is not even (explicitly) mentioned in the Torah, the center of the Sukkot celebration? Pouring water seems little reason to celebrate. Sukkot is observed at the end of the summer when the springs are at their low point. The water libation ceremony is, appropriately, a national prayer beseeching Hashem to provide us with more water in the year ahead.12 Why was this ceremony the source of such extraordinary joy?

A Deeper Level of Simcha

The focus on the Simchat Beit HaShoeva expresses a deeper level of the simcha. We are happy not only as a result of our success, but also because of our realization that Hashem cares and provides for us. Most people celebrate their success, but have no real reason to assume that it will continue in the future. We, however, know that our success signifies the strength of our relationship with Hashem and so we are confident that the success will continue.

When we pour our precious last drops of water on the Mikdash’s mizbeach we are like Eliyahu Hanavi at Har HaCarmel who poured out four large jugs of their last remaining water (after years of drought) on Hashem’s mizbeach as an expression of his confidence in Hashem’s mercy.13

Each year at the water libation ceremony, we express this same confidence by not only pouring out the last of our water, but by also celebrating intensively when doing so. We reflect on our success of the past year, appreciate its source, thank and praise Hashem for it, and celebrate our faith and confidence in the future.

Like Eliyahu Hanavi, whose actions and tefilot at Har HaCarmel were answered with rain,14 our celebration and show of faith make us worthy of receiving rain and Hashem’s other brachot.15

Though it is always easy to focus on what we are missing in our lives, it is critical that we use Chag HaSukkot to focus upon and celebrate Hashem’s great blessings that we often take for granted. May this celebration strengthen our confidence and merit us continued good health, happiness and hatzlacha in the upcoming year.

Rabbi Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat HaKotel.

1 See Mishneh Torah L’Rambam Sukkah 8:12 who speaks of a ‘simcha yeteira’ on Sukkot in contrast to the regular level of simcha on other yamim tovim.

2 Vayikra 23:40, Devarim 16:14,15.

3 Devarim 16:14-15.

4 Shemot 23:16.

5 Vayikra 23:39. See also Sefer HaChinuch 324. Chazal link the celebration to our having received Hashem’s forgiveness during the first part of the month of Tishrei (See Midrash Tehilim 102, Sukka 53a, Vayikra Rabba Emor 30).

6 Moreh Nevuchim 3:43 based on Vayikra 23:40.  This is also why Sukkot is described as ‘Chag Hashem’ (Vayikra 23:39. See also Devarim 16:15). Vayikra 23:40 is the basis for the fact that (min hatorah) the daled minim are taken seven full days only in the Beit Hamikdash (Mishneh Sukka 41a).  See Rarmbam Sefer Hamitzvot Aseh 169 who connects the taking of the daled minim to the simcha of Sukkot.

7 Note the parallel between the pesukim that describe the simcha of Sukkot with the daled minim (Vayikra 23:40) and those that describe the bringing of bikkurim (Devarim 26:2,11).

8 This is why we take the daled minim during and integrate them within Hallel.

9 See Rashbam and Ramban on Vayikra 23:39 and Ritva on Sukka 53a.

10 ‘כל שמחה זו אינה אלא בשביל ניסוך המים (רש”י סוכה נ.).’

11 ‘מי שלא ראה שמחת בית השואבה, לא ראה שמחה מימיו (תלמוד בבלי סוכה נא:).’

12 Talmud Bavli, Rosh Hashana 16a.

13 Melachim 1 17:34-35.  See also Shmuel 2 23:16.

14 Ibid 45.

15 Sefer HaChinuch 325.

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