These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Water and Happiness by Karen Feuer

Posted on November 2, 2010 by Eryn

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I was fortunate to be able to take a break from the office and participate in one class during the Pardes “Yom Iyun Sukkot.” The class, taught by Pardes faculty member, Tovah Leah Nachmani, was entitled, “Sukkot: Is God on the Guest List?” Starting with the controversial statement by Hillel the Elder – “If I am here, everything is here, but if I am not here, who is here?” (Talmud Sukka 53a) – Tovah Leah went on to skillfully demonstrate how God is central to the holiday. Rashi says that, in fact, Hillel the Elder is speaking here in the name of God. Through several other texts, we learned that the whole point of Sukkot is to help us internalize that God and not us is running the world. The internalization of this principle leads to the deepest form of happiness. Usually, people rely on external circumstances to create the internal feeling of happiness. Sukkot is our once-a-year reminder that ideally, if we are God-conscious, joy can be a perpetual state not affected at all by circumstance.

The Simchat Beit Hashoeva water-drawing ritual – the high point of the Sukkot festivities in ancient times – thus takes on new meaning. What’s the big deal about drawing water and then dumping it out? Through this ritual the people expressed their deep-held belief that God was in control of the world. Nothing was more precious in ancient Israel (and indeed in modern Israel) than water. One’s natural tendency, therefore, would be to conserve every drop. However, on Sukkot, when the people were so in touch with the reality of God’s providence in the world, they joyfully expressed their total belief that God would provide that year’s rains. They expressed this faith through dumping out water. Most of the year we slip into the illusion that water is our life-source. Sukkot reminds us that God alone is our life source and truly, our source of real joy.

This class greatly enhanced my God-consciousness during Sukkot and continues to affect me up until and especially now, as we stand in the Hebrew month of Heshvan and pray our hearts out for rain.