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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Nisan and the Absence of Water

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The upcoming month of Nisan, which we read about in the special Maftir, is the beginning of the year from the perspective of months (Shemot 12:2). The Jewish New Year from a sun perspective is in Tishrei, especially in regard to its holiday of Sukkot, as we will explain. Let us contrast Nisan’s holiday of Pesach and Tishrei’s Sukkot, regarding water, the basic necessary building block of human life.
On the first day of Pesach, we stop praying for rain and even praising Hashem for it. The severely prohibited chametz comes from a meeting between grain and water. Some groups even keep water away from matza after it is baked. The miracles around the liberation culminate with Bnei Yisrael going through the sea in dryness.
On Sukkot, so much is related to water. The shaking of the lulav is a way to pray for an abundance of rain in the upcoming season. Aravot are identified by the Torah as growing on streams, and the hadas leaves are shaped like rain drops. Hitting the aravot and the Hoshana prayers are related to requests for rain. In the Beit Hamikdash, there were libations of water only on Sukkot, as all year wine was poured, and this was accompanied by the Simchat Beit Hasho’eva activities, which were particularly joyous events.
There is another major contrast between Pesach, when we distance ourselves from water, the universal sign of life, and Sukkot. Pesach is observed within the house, where the Korban Pesach must be eaten in a group. Not only might goyim be insulted by the verses of Shefoch Chamatcha, but they cannot partake with us in the wine and the Korban Pesach. In contrast, on Sukkot, we go out of the normal house, with its firm walls, into an incomplete structure. We are much more universalistic in thought, as we read about hosting the nations of the world in Yerushalayim in our future Beit Hamikdash (see Zecharya 14).
It is interesting that Ezra, who put a lot of focus in his public work, on separating Bnei Yisrael from the nations that had settled in Eretz Yisrael and strengthening the hold on Yerushalayim, began his journey to the Land in the beginning of the month of Nisan (Ezra 7:9). In contrast, Shlomo celebrated the opening of the first Beit Hamikdash specifically on Sukkot (Melachim I, 8:2), and in his address stresses his universalistic dreams for the holy structure.
Let us hope that we will merit that Am Yisrael will experience the holiday of our freedom in a spirit of proper balance between the factors that bring us to gather in and those that bring us to have influence on the outside world.
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