This Shabbat falls towards the end of the holiday of Sukkot, the time God judges the world for rain that will fall. When the Temple stood, there was a ceremony connected with water called Simchat Beit haShoeiva’, the ‘Joy of the Water-drawing Libations’. The descriptions of this ceremony are astounding. There was ongoing music, dancing, singing and Sages juggling burning torches! The Talmud specifically mentions Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, who juggled 8 burning torches at once, and never let them touch each other.
In fact, the Talmud states that if someone has not seen the celebration of these water libations, they have not experienced joy – in other words, we don’t know from parties.
Sukkot is a unique holiday because there are holidays within the holiday. On the seventh day of Sukkot, Hoshana Rabah, we take our lulav and etrog and walk around the sanctuary in circuits as we recite the Hoshanot. The day marks the end of the High Holidays, as the decisions of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are made, sealed, and now delivered. It is a ceremony filled with Jewish mysticism — a step back into our ancient past. If we watch this moment from a birds-eye view, everyone below looks like a current of water flowing round and round. The medium becomes the message, as we pray for water, it is our bodies that express the prayer.
For all of us who have ever danced a hora at a simcha (also called the Mayim dance), we have emulated the water libation dancing. The words to the hora begin: ‘ushoftem mayim bisasson, mimaynei hayishua’, ‘and you will draw water in joy from the waters of salvation’ – a quote referring to Simchat Beit HaShoeiva – the Joy of the Water-drawing Libations.
Soon we will transition out of our holiest time of the year, as we should. We need to go back to the mundane, but if we’re lucky, we can carry some of these moments with us in the coming year.
May we all enter a year of peace, abundance, and health. May we dance a hora or two with the images of Rabbis juggling burning torches, and may we learn to experience joy that has no limit.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.
Shabbat shalom, Umoadim lesimcha,