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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays Sukkot

Sukkot - The Festival of Water

On Sukkot we are judged in relation to water, and we find that on this festival there were many matters connected to water. The joyous water libation underscored the fact that the nation of Israel was thriving in its land and was blessed with water.
Dedicated to the memory of
Asher Ben Haim
Click to dedicate this lesson
We presently find ourselves in the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. These days are loaded with preparations for the the Sukkot festival and the Four Species. We are preparing ourselves for the Sukkot festival, a festival upon which, says the Mishnah, we are judged for water (Rosh Hashana 1:2): "At four seasons Divine judgment is passed on the world: at Passover in respect of produce; at Shavuot in respect of fruit; at Rosh Hashana all creatures pass before Him like children of Maron, as it says, ‘He that fashions the heart of them all, that considers all their doings’; and on Sukkot judgment is passed in respect of rain."

We have reached Sukkot, whereupon we are judged in relation to water, and we find that on this festival there were many matters connected to water. There was the water libation itself, a great festival which was very impressive in the time of the Temple which involved drawing water from the Shiloah spring in golden pitchers. The festival's dancing and joy were intended to underscore the fact that the nation of Israel was thriving in its land and blessed with water.

And we know that the High Priest, when he exited the Holy of Holies, would offer a short prayer in the outer chamber, and he would not pray at length. And what would he say? He prayed: "May it be Thy will, God our Lord, that this year be full of heavy rains . . ." (Yoma 53b).

In other words, the first request of the High Priest after exiting the Holy of Holies is that the nation be blessed with a rain-filled year in order that it be capable of subsisting upon its soil. Our waving the Four Species is also meant to stop the harmful winds and dew. It is not enough that rains fall; they must fall in the appropriate amounts, not in gusts and not in rainstorms which are liable to uproot and destroy everything.

We are, all of us, dependent upon rain, and this dependency's undertone can be felt in many of the actions which we perform during the festival. The waving of the Lulav - these Four Species grow upon the water. In the time of the Temple - the joyful water drawing celebration. And at the end of the festival we begin to pray for rain.

I would like to mention one of the stanzas from this prayer wherein mention is made of the transition from Yom Kippur to Sukkot:
"Remember the appointee over the Temple who made five immersions in the water." The priest, responsible for overseeing the Temple, immerses himself in the mikveh ritual bath five times. "He went to cleanse his hands through sanctification with water. He called out and sprinkled purity as with water. He remained apart from a people of waterlike impetuosity."

The prayer and supplication, then, is that we should merit the year's blessing. Thank God, last year, 5752 (1991-2) we had abundant rain, and even though we could use more, these rains have at least granted us a respectable existence.
The translated Talmudic sources in the above article come from the Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom), and the translation of the Prayer for Rain is from the Complete Artscroll Siddur.

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