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Simchat Beit Hashoevah Sukkot Simchat Torah 5783 ~ Oct. 14, 2022

If one really wanted to experience Sukkot, then according to the Talmud, one had to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to participate and experience the most beautiful ceremony known a Simchat Beit Ha-Shoevah, the celebration of the water drawing. The festivities included the ceremonial carrying of water up the mountain side of Jerusalem along the pilgrims path. At night time, the pilgrims who traveled to be a part of the celebration and residents would then join together for all kinds of parties and celebrations including juggling and gymnastics. One rabbi is said to have juggled eight fiery torches, with one never touching the other. Sounds to me close to the many fairs that take place in America, as we celebrate fall and harvest.

This past Wednesday evening, in Jerusalem, the celebration took place once again, with a major concert and the dedication of a newly scribed Torah. That which distinguishes the festivities on the Temple mount from that of our local fairs is that the celebrations are couched in the blessing of water and rain and our understanding  of a need for God’s beneficence in providing us with rain in its season. In that regard the rabbis  of the Talmud teach that the festival of Sukkot’s purpose is to judge the community, not for our sins, but for our need for rain. (Mishna Rosh Hashana 1:2)

When one examines the different mitzvot of Sukkot one has a better understanding of this concept. For example, the rabbis of the  Talmud teach that one holds the etrog and lulav together not simply because there is a requirement to do so in the Torah. In fact, one takes hold of the fours species because they are products of water, and, therefore, by holding on to them one is actually asking for the blessing of water (Taanit 2b). The dwelling in the Sukkah, was not simply to remind us of the booths that the Children of Israel lived in while traveling through the desert. Rather the dwellings represented the cloud of glory of God above them, that provided them with protection. But as we all know the clouds, also provide the rain that is needed and so by sitting in the Sukkah and gazing up at the sky at the clouds, we might be once again offering our hope for rain to moisten the ground for the springtime planting. And the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to witness the celebration of Simchat Beit Hashoevah, was the cherry on the top of the ice cream sundae, so to speak, expressing the joy and blessing associated with water and rain.   It is said in the Talmud that one who has not joined to experience the grandeur and joy of this celebration has not known true joy (Sukkot 51a.)  

The culmination of all of these different mitzvot and celebrations occurs on Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, when as a community we will join together to offer our prayers for rain for the winter season, which will then be included in our daily prayers until Passover time.

And perhaps it is for that reason that we participate in two other religious rites at the time. The first is Yizkor, where we perhaps are asking that if not for our own benefit, then for the benefit of our loved ones and their hope for us, that God blesses us with the needed rain. And the second, the beginning of the reading of the Book of Genesis, and the creation story. Once again, a reminder of the need for the blessing of water, but also the need for the separation of the waters, so that we are blessed by their presence, rather than cursed by their presence as in the story of Noah and the Flood.

So now that we have experienced Sukkot (and continue to do so until Sunday with Hoshanah Rabbah), I hope that you will join together with us for services at Temple Israel, on Park St., this coming Monday, to celebrate Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah together with Yizkor. In doing so, we remember our loved ones,  and we also invoke their merits for the rain we need in the winter season. And finally I hope that you will also join us this coming Sunday afternoon/evening at Temple Bnai Israel in Willimantic as the congregations in our area celebrate Simchat Torah,  in a manner representative of the celebrations in Jerusalem with merriment, dancing and community joining together.

Shabbat shalom and chag sa’meach.

Rabbi K

Sat, April 1 2023 10 Nisan 5783