He who has not seen the Water-Drawing Celebration has never seen joy in his life (Talmud)
Every Jewish festival is celebrated with joy. Often there are additional emotions added to the mix: awe on Rosh Hashanah, regret on Yom Kippur, freedom from oppression on Passover. But the holiday of Sukkot is pure joy. In our prayers, we call it simply “the season of our rejoicing.
One of Sukkot’s most joyous observances was known as Simchat Beit Hashoeivah, the Celebration of the Water-Drawing. When the Holy Templestood, every sacrifice included wine libations poured over the altar.When the Holy Temple stood, every sacrifice included wine libations poured over the altar. On Sukkot, water was also poured over the altar in a special ceremony. This ritual engendered such joy that it was celebrated with music, dancing and singing all night long.
Every morning of Sukkot at daybreak, a group of Levites and priests went down to the Shiloach stream, which ran south of the Temple Mount, and drew three log (a Talmudic liquid measurement) of fresh water to be poured on the altar after the daily morning sacrifice. Their arrival at the Temple with the water was accompanied by trumpet blasts.1 (For Shabbat, the water was collected before the onset of Shabbat and stored in a golden vessel in the Temple.)
There were two holes in the altar into which liquid was poured. One hole was for the wine that accompanied every sacrifice, and a second, smaller one was reserved for the Sukkot water. The holes were different sizes to allow the wine and water, which have different consistencies, to drain at the same speed.
The nights of Sukkot were spent celebrating this once-a-year offering. The Talmud describes the celebrations of Simchat Beit Hashoevah in detail: Priests kindled fires on great candelabra, lighting up Jerusalem as if it were the middle of the day.2 Throughout the night pious men danced holding torches, scholars juggled and Levites played music while the lay people watched with excitement. The Temple courtyard was specially furnished to accommodate this event, and a balcony was erected for women so they could observe the revelry.
Though not explicitly mandated in the Torah, the water libation is part of the oral tradition passed down from Moses.
Priests kindled fires on great candelabra, lighting up Jerusalem as if it were the middle of the day.Even today, when we no longer have a Temple, and the water libation ritual is discontinued, many communities still celebrate Simchat Beit Hashoeivah with music and dancing during the nights of Sukkot, in keeping with the Torah’s directive, “You shall rejoice on your holiday.”5
Why was this event accompanied by such fanfare and celebration? Part of the answer is that Jews of old were happy to demonstrate their fealty to tradition, even those traditions not specified in the Torah. In addition, the water-drawing was said to be accompanied by a great awareness of G‑dliness, to the degree that it is said that, along with water, people would “draw” prophetic revelation.
The chassidic masters explain that the water celebration signifies a joy caused by a connection to G‑d so deep and so true that, like water, it has no describable taste. And like water, it sustains all life.
Mushroom and Kale Tacos-good menu for eating in the sukah
- 1 cup white or brown rice, cooked
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 large shallot, sliced thin
- sea salt
- 1 pound crimini mushrooms, brushed clean with stems removed, sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1 – 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and minced
- 1 poblano pepper, trimmed, seeded, and chopped (reserve a few slices for garnish)
- 1 bunch Red Russian or Lacinato kale (about 3/4 pound), stems trimmed and rough chopped
- 8 corn tortillas
- 1 avocado, sliced
- 1 lime, sliced
- 1 green onion, sliced thin
- Cook rice according to package instructions or desired ratio.
- Set a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and then the shallots. Sprinkle with sea salt. Nudging often, cook until shallots are golden with just-crispy edges, about 10 minutes. Lower heat if needed. Remove cooked shallots from pan and set aside.
- In the same pan, over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon olive oil, and then the poblano. Cook 1 minute; remove to a small bowl.
- Working in batches, add a teaspoon olive oil and arrange a handful of mushroom slices in hot pan. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt. Cook until mushroom release their water and edges darken, 3 – 4 minutes per side. Remove cooked mushrooms to a plate. Repeat until mushrooms are all cooked, then turn off heat, and toss cooked mushrooms, poblano, and shallot together in the pan. Add a splash of sherry vinegar and more sea salt to taste.
- Meanwhile, in a deep sided skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, cook 1 minute, and then add kale, a handful at a time. Sprinkle with sea salt. Stirring often, cook until kale has cooked down, 5 – 7 minutes.
- In a small skillet, heat corn tortillas until fragrant and pliable.
- To assemble tacos, layer rice, kale, and mushrooms in each tortilla. Garnish with thinly sliced poblano and green onion. Serve with a lime wedge.