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Kenneth Cohen

Temple Water Libations

One of the highlights of the Succot holiday in the Beit Hamikdash, was ניסוך המים. This refers to the water libation from the altar.

This ceremony brought roars from the crowd when wine and water was poured as part of the holiday festivities of Succot. People were exhilarated with joy, when they saw this taking place.

The question is that if this was such a special time, why wasn’t it mentioned explicitly in the Torah. Aside from it falling under the category of Halacha L’Moshe Misinai, there was a discreet mention of this in the Torah.

We might be familiar with the redundant nature of the Torah reading during Succot. The sacrifices mentioned each day, were almost identical. The only difference was a diminishing number of bulls offered each day. There needed to be a total of seventy bulls, corresponding to the seventy nations.

There was another slight difference in the ending of the description of each holiday sacrifice. On most days, it ended with the word, ונסכה, meaning it’s libation. This format changed three times.

On the second day, the paragraph ended with the word, ונסכיהם, and their libations. On the sixth day it ended with ונסכיה, and their libations. And on the seventh day, we have the word, כמשפטם, according to their laws, instead of the word, כמשפט, its laws, as was used on all other days.

The Gemara in תענית suggests that these discrepancies are not random. The extra “מ” on the second day is available to teach something new. The extra “י” on the sixth day of ונסכיה instead of ונסכה, is also available for a new teaching. And the extra “מ” on the seventh day of כמשפטם, instead of כמשפט, is also available.

Our three available letters, spell the word, “מים.” Here is our hint to the ceremony of ניסוך המים that was an integral part of Succot festivities.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at www.cafehebrew.com