A Time of Simcha: Celebrating the Blessings of Life
BY RABBI REUVEN TARAGIN
Though there is a mitzvah to be joyous on all of our holidays, only Sukkot is described as zman simchateinu, “the time of our joy”. The Torah mentions the word simcha a total of only four times in reference to holidays, and three of these mentions concern Sukkot. The famous and oft-sung words v’samachta b’chagecha… v’hayita ach sameach, “and you shall rejoice on your festivals and be fully joyous” refer specifically to Sukkot.
Why is Sukkot so joyous? On a simple level, Sukkot – also called Chag HaAsif, the “Holiday of Harvesting” – celebrates the successful completion of the harvest season. Although our celebration of the harvest is similar to that of other cultures, Rambam explains that Sukkot differs because of its focus on the Beit HaMikdash: “And you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days” (Vayikra 23:40). This is also why Sukkot is described as Chag Hashem, the “Festival of G-d”.
We celebrate “before Hashem” because we realize that He is the cause of our success. Much like the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim, on Sukkot we use products of the harvest to praise and thank Him 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 simcha in the Beit HaMikdash was the simchat beit haShoeva, the “water libation celebration”. Throughout each night of Sukkot, the people celebrated the water just drawn from the Shiloach spring before pouring it out on the altar the next morning. This simcha was so unique that Chazal describe it as qualitatively greater than any other.
Why was this ritual, which is not even explicitly mentioned in the Torah, the center of the Sukkot celebration? There seems to be little 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. Why is this ceremony the source of such extraordinary simcha?
A deeper level of simcha
Though the water libation ceremony seems to be little cause for joy, it is, in fact, the root of our most profound simcha. With this ceremony, we demonstrate that our joy is not merely the result of our success, but also because we recognize that Hashem cares and provides for us. Though most people naturally celebrate their successes, they have no reason to assume their success will continue in the future. We, however, know that our success signifies the strength of our relationship with Hashem, and so we are confident the success will continue.
When Eliyahu HaNavi stood at Har HaCarmel after years of drought, he poured out four large jugs of the nation’s last remaining water on the altar of Hashem as an expression of his confidence in G-d’s mercy. 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 confidence in the future. Like Eliyahu HaNavi, whose actions and prayers at Har HaCarmel were answered with rain, our celebration of faith makes us worthy of receiving rain and Hashem’s other blessings.
Though it is always easy to focus on what we are missing in our lives, Sukkot is an opportunity to reflect upon and celebrate Hashem’s great blessings that we too often take for granted. May this celebration strengthen our confidence and merit us continued good health, happiness, and success in the upcoming year.
Rabbi Reuven Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and Dean of the Yeshivat Hakotel Overseas Program.