The Role of Simcha in Simchat Beit Ha’Shoeva

Sukkah | Noam Greenberger | 15 years ago

In the fourth and fifth chapters of Masechet Sukkah, a number of mishnayot deal with the water-libation offered on Sukkot, and the festivities and emotions surrounding this event. In broad terms, this can all be encapsulated under the heading of “Simchat Beit Ha’Shoevah” (The happiness of the water-drawing).

On this very issue however, there exist two opinions. The Gemara, in Masechet Sukkah (50b) brings a disagreement as to whether indeed the Mishnah calls this celebration one of “shoeva” (water-drawing) or one of “chashuva” (importance). The Gemara does not go down the path of investigating which opinion is most accurate, but rather highlights the truth in both opinions (Tosfot 50b s.v. Vechad Tani Shoeva).

The Gemara begins by addressing the view of “shoeva” (water-drawing). In its support the Gemara brings the fact that it is indeed from a pasuk which states “Ushavtem Mayim Besason” [“And you can draw water joyfully”] (Isaiah 12) from which the requirement to be happy on this festival is learnt out. “Ushavtem” comes from the same Hebrew root as “shoeva” and it is thus valid to refer to the event as Simchat Beit Ha’Shoevah.

However, this opinion is not so clear-cut. Tosfot (s.v. Chad Tani Shoeva) cites the Talmud Yerushalmi on this issue which states that the view of “shoeva” is based on the belief that the name “Simchat Beit Ha’Shoevah” relates to the fact that as a result of the simcha attained through this mitzvah, people would “draw forth” ruach hakodesh (Divine spirit) - “for the Shechina dwells where there is happiness”.

The Maharsha (a later commentary on the Gemara from the Polish town of ) raises two issues which the Yerushalmi, quoted by Tosfot, alludes to. His first point is in the fact that whilst the water-libation (the heart of the celebration) was done in the Temple Court, the aforementioned opinion in our Gemara refers to the festival as “The Happiness of the House of Water-Drawing” (Simchat Beit Ha’Shoevah) - but the water-drawing was not the focus of the festival and occurred at the stream, not in the Temple Court? Why not refer to the festival, asks the Maharsha, as “The Happiness of the House of Libation” for the libations were done in the as was the rejoicing?

His second question is on the topic of why the pasuk in Isaiah states “And you will draw water joyfully”- and yet the Halacha states that only the libation is to be done joyfully?

The Maharsha’s answer to the two questions is as follows. Regarding the issue of the name “Simchat Beit Ha’Shoevah” (The Happiness of the House of Water-Drawing) as opposed to “The Happiness of the House of Libation”, indeed it is this inaccuracy of phraseology which motivates the Yerushalmi to learn out from the phrase “Simchat Beit Ha’Shoevah” no relationship to a place, rather an allusion to the ruach hakodesh which was drawn forth as a direct product of the happiness that surrounded this holy event. Secondly, answers the Maharsha, the pasuk from Isaiah too alludes to this concept. Whilst this pasuk may be the source for the requirement to infuse the water-libation with happiness, the Yerushalmi understands once again that it is brought as support for the opinion of “shoeva” because it is to be read allegorically: “And you will draw forth [ruach hakodesh] via the water [libation] which shall be done joyfully”.

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