This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah
“You Haven’t Even SEEN Simchah”
The term “Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah” has become the modern equivalent of a “Succos Party,” however this actually ancient event was not only in incredible spectacle beyond a typical festival in its own right, but it is apparently the model for joyous occasions, as Chazal teach [Succah 5:1, 52A] “Whoever has not seen the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah has not seen Simchah (happiness) in his days.”
Mind you, the Mishnah specifies that those who haven’t seen the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah have not even seen Simchah, perhaps, let alone, truly experienced Simchah in their days. That’s a major statement! Has really no one in our generation or even the past couple thousand years ever experienced, or even witnessed true Simchah? Apparently, as happy as we may have ever felt in our lives, no! We do not know what true Simchah looks like! That begs the question: What is so joyous about the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah? And if we haven’t seen it before, what does true Simchah look like?
In order to answer any of these questions, we have to first understand what the original Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah actually was. So, what was it exactly?
In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, the holiday offerings were accompanied by Nisachim, libations. Now, these libations historically consisted of Yayin, wine. However, on Chol HaMo’eid Succos, based on allusions in Scripture and their exegesis in Oral Law, we are commanded to offer a special libation consisting of water, known in Halachah as Nisuch HaMayim.
Apparently, the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah, literally, the “Rejoicing of the House of [Water] Drawing” was the festive event which celebrated the ritual of the water-drawing for the Nisuch HaMayim.
Well? Isn’t that something?! If that doesn’t make a person want to jump for joy, I cannot imagine what will! In case you couldn’t detect the sarcasm, water-drawing does not sound all that special. Clearly, we’re missing something here, but what? Why does the preparatory ritual for Nisuch HaMayim warrant any kind of celebration?
Now, as far as what this pure “Simchah” supposedly looks like, Chazal actually describe the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah in great detail [Succah 5:1-4, 51A-53A]. It was apparently a sight to see. We’re taught that the courtyards of Yerushalayim would be illuminated by the Menoros which the Kohanim arranged at this festival; Chassidim V’Anshei Ma’aseh, literally pious people and men of remarkable deeds, would sing, dance, and even juggle fire; all the while, Levi’im would serve as the live orchestra playing music on their many instruments.
If you think about it, between the music, the dancing, and the fire-juggling, the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah, as amazing as it sounds, is actually kind of familiar to us. We can’ t say that we haven’t seen ANYTHING like it before. The display of this event, as Chazal describe it, kind of reminds us of our modern Simchas Chassan V’Kallah (literally, the Rejoicing of the Groom and Bride), the portion of the wedding at which everyone dances for the Chassan and Kallah. However, one major difference between these two Simachos is that the Simchas Chassan V’Kallah is way easier to understand. The joy of the occasion is most natural. Everyone who is happy at a Chasunah is reasonably so; the Chassan, the Kallah, their families, and friends are all celebrating the formation of a new family, unity between lovers, and so forth. If anyone has ever been to a wedding or has even been Zocheh to the Simchah of being a Chassan or Kallah, would we not assume that he or she has certainly experienced or at least witnessed Simchah in his life? How different could it be from a Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah? On the contrary, most would assume that the Simchas Chassan V’Kallah is even greater than that of the water-drawing for this water libation. And yet, if you’ve been to one hundred weddings, but you haven’t seen the celebration of the water-drawing, you really haven’t seen Simchah yet! How could that be?!
There is another difference between Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah and Simchas Chassan V’Kallah that may provide an important clue for us. If one looks back at the description of the festivities of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah, not everybody present was actually dancing and singing. It was only the Tzaddikim, or the “Chassidim” and “Anshei Ma’aseh” who did so while everyone else observed.
In other words, it seems that the challenge of relating to the true Simchah of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah is not just a new challenge for our generation. Even when the ancient Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah took place, only these Chassidim and Anshei Ma’aseh truly felt and displayed the Simchah. Everyone else was just a spectator. As the Mishnah perhaps implies, those fortunate to see the event all saw the Simchah in their days, but perhaps that was about it. They were fortunate to behold it. Having the Simchah was something altogether different! Why the Tzaddikim at the party were so B’Simchah is not immediately clear, but if there was ever such a Simchah to at least behold, this was apparently it. The question is what was the true source of this Simchah which only the Chassidim V’Anshei Ma’aseh could feel? Why is this Simchah so beyond any other, even that of the Chassan and Kallah?
In order to answer that question, we have to figure out what exactly the significance of Nisuch HaMayim is. So, what might that be? Moreover, what is the Hashkafah or philosophy behind Nisuch HaMayim being offered on Succos?
In order to understand the significance of Nisuch HaMayim, we have consider the difference between Nisuch HaMayim and the original Nisuch HaYayin, the wine libation.
When thinking about which of these two substances brings a person to a state of Simchah, water or wine, most of us would assume wine. And one would not be incorrect for saying so. Chazal teach us that “Ein Simchah Ela Yayin”-“There is no Simchah other than wine” [Pesachim 109A]. This statement is the basis for the Halachic requirement of drinking wine on Yom Tov, Succos included, as a fulfillment of Simchas Yom Tov! Wine’s association with Simchah is even backed by a Pasuk, as it says in Tehillim [104:15] “V’Yayin Yisamach Levav Enosh”-“And wine gladdens the heart of [mortal] man.” Wine appears to be an undeniable symbol and catalyst of Simchah. And yet, it is apparently the water libation that warrants the greatest Simchah which, if you have not seen it, you have never even seen true Simchah. What is the Simchah of Nisuch HaMayim?
Yayin, indeed, is a catalyst for Simchah. And surely, there is an undoubted display of Simchah that is shared between the hosts and guests of a Simchas Chassan V’Kallah. However, this Simchah, as sincere as it is, is what we might think of as being more of surface Simchah. And don’t be mistaken. This IS Simchah, yes, but it is intrinsically dependent on the external substance or magnificence of the situation itself. Just as the wine intoxicates the one who drinks it, from the outside in, the magnificence of the occasion of the Simchas Chassan V’Kallah is what consumes the wedding go-ers with Simchah, again from the outside in. But, of course, only the one who drinks the wine can feel the Simchah that comes with it. And similarly, only those who feel connected to the Chassan and Kallah truly feel the Simchah associated with the event. (Try going to a stranger’s wedding and dancing with genuine happiness. It feels awkward.)
There is, however, another kind of Simchah, a less frequently felt Simchah that is apparently associated with Succos time and, of course, Nisuch HaMayim. That Simchah is what we might refer to as the most fundamental Simchas HaChaim, the Rejoicing in Life itself. Like the theme of the temporary Succos we live in for seven days, the luxuries are left behind, but the Simchah is still alive, because we are alive.
Coming out of Yom Kippur, when our “fate” has been sealed and we are yet alive, it is not the luxuries of life alone that warrant celebration, but it is the simple things like life itself, things so pure and yet so fundamental to our existence such as water! Imagine someone who has been traveling in a desert for days. I’ll tell you one thing, he does not want wine. I’ll tell you one more thing, nothing would make him happier than a cold glass of water. Even after Yom Kippur, when one is making Havdalah on wine, what he really prefers is water! Similarly, after a Chassan and Kallah have been fasting all day on the day of their wedding, although the first thing they break their fast on is wine, we know they prefer water! (There is a reason why the Chassan’s close friends bring him water during the dancing and NOT wine.) It is because it is water that brings life. It is water that quenches our thirst. It is water, so pure, that unlike any other tasty drink, no matter how many times you drink it, you do not get tired of it.
As Succos begins the rainy season, it is in prayer for the rains of Brachah (blessing) that we offer the Nisuch HaMayim. And it us specifically rain in its proper time and context that we pray for, as rain in the wrong time, for example, on Succos itself is a Siman Klalah (omen or curse) [Ta’anis 2A]. Our lives depend on these waters of Brachah.
This fundamental need for water is perhaps why Chazal famously teach us, “Ein Mayim Ela Torah”-“There is no water other than Torah” [Bava Kama 27A, 82A, Avodah Zarah 5B], as like water in its proper context, the Torah itself, is our fundamental life source. This very relationship between water and Torah may also explain why the culmination of our prayers for rains of Brachah, Tefillas Geshem (Prayer of Rain) on Sh’mini Atzetes is immediately followed by Simchas Torah! It is because these two Simachos represent the same fundamental Simchas HaChaim!