In the Talmud there is a vivid description about the great celebrations which occurred on Choel Moed Sukkot in the Beit Hamkidah:
“One who has not seen the Water-Drawing Celebration (Simchat Beit Hashoeva) never saw joy in their life… there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that was not illuminated from the light of the Temple… The pious and the scholars would dance before the people” (Tractate Sukkah 51a)
Many commentators have pondered these statements of the Talmud. After all were not the events of Simchat Beit HaShoeva like any other festival sacrifice which was brought in the Temple?
Despite the ritual aspects being identical to all other offerings, Simchat Beit Hashoeva had one key and different component. Instead of pouring wine on the altar, water was used.
One explanation is that there are great spiritual differences between wine and water. Wine has a powerful taste, is enjoyable and can intoxicate. Water despite its necessity is bland and tasteless. After the spiritual highs of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur a person can feel ‘intoxicated’ and uplifted. However as one returns to their daily ‘grind’ and routine the blandness of mundane life can become ‘sobering’.
Nevertheless, there is a key concept imbued through the pouring of water. Even though one has returned to a usual routine it must be one in which their New Year’s resolutions remain strong. A persons reaffirmation of their connection to G-d and Judaism during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur should remain and can sustain them the entire year till the next high holidays!
Choel Moed Sukkot is a time of jubilation, ” what can be done on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur with tears and a broken heart can be achieved with joy and dancing on Sukkot and Simchat Torah” the Hassidic proverb goes.
As we come to the culmination of Tishrei this idea of “bland dancing” signifies bringing into our lives the past influences of ‘Days of Awe.’ As we set out to the upcoming year, what is needed is firm and resolute action. The meditations, introspection and resolutions of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur must now begin to influence our lives, all this being in tandem with obvious great simcha and joy.
Simchat Beit HaShoeivah embodys the importance of bringing our spiritual highs into our busy lives and schedules. Ultimately this is purpose of the high holidays as they give us a chance to reassess, reinterpret and restart to see divine in the mundane.