Water. It is as precious as it is ordinary. Water is essential for life, as we know it, to exist. At the same time, water can be extremely dangerous. More than 70% of the earth is covered by water.
The Midrash indicates that the water of the deep "wants" to cover the earth, and it is only G-d's continual mercy that prevents that from happening. In Israel, as in some other places in the world, the summer is dry and the winter is the rainy season, when, in a good year, enough rain falls to fill the aquafiers and replenish the other water storage for the year. The second Mishna in Rosh HaShana ends U'VaChag, nidonim al haMayim
- "on Sukkot, we are judged regarding water". It is logical, since the season of Sukkot is the begining of the rainy season. Many of the symbols mentioned in my previous post
have to do with water. Aravot are described in the verse as Arvei Nachal
, brook willow; the Etrog needs a tremendous amount of water to grow - indeed, there is an opinion in the Talmud (R"H 35a) that Pri Etz Hadar
("Fruit of a beautiful tree") evokes the greek word "Hydra", for water.
When the Beit HaMikdash existed, there was a special water libation, in addition to the normal wine libation. A special ceremony was held when the water was drawn, called the Simchat Beit HaSho'eiva- literally "The joy of the place of drawing water". Today, this is evoked in Jerusalem by live bands and people dancing in the streets nightly. Over the course of Sukkot, the Torah mandated a total of 70 bulls that were offered as Mussafim
(extra offerings). The Talmud (Sukkah 55b) teaches that these were brought "for the (merit of the) 70 nations of the world." Rashi comments: "To bring forgiveness for them, so that rain shall fall all over the earth." When the Temple stood, willow branches were brought and leaned against the Mizbayach (altar) during Sukkot. The Shofar was blown and the Kohanim (priests) would walk around the altar and recite the prayer Hosha Na
- "Please, bring salvation." Then the people would come in and wave the aravot. On the seventh day of Sukkot (the last day of Chol HaMoed), the altar was encircled seven times. As a "Zecher L'Mikdash" - to remember this mitzvah, we walk around the Bima in the synagogue, once each day and seven times on the seventh day of Sukkot - Hoshana Rabba - "The Great Hoshana". After the seventh Hakafa (encirclement), the Lulav and Etrog are laid aside, 5 new Aravot (called "Hoshanot") are taken, and beaten against the floor or the Bima. Certain insertions are made in the morning prayers that are only recited on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, and the Chazan (leader of the services) dons a Kittel (the white shroud-like garment that is worn on Yom Kippur).
Many people have the practice of staying up late and studying Torah in the Sukka on the night of Hoshana Rabba. On Shmini Atzeret, during the Chazan's repetition of the Mussaf prayer, he again dons a Kittel and leads the congregation in Tefilat haGeshem
, a special prayer for rain. Near the climax, we chant, LiVracha V'Lo L'Klala
- "for a blessing, and not for a curse". Certainly, this year, we have seen clearly what rains of curse can really mean. May this year be one of rains that are for a blessing.