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To Get Drunk On Life

Why Seven Nights of Dancing Over a Bucket of Water?

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

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  • October 3, 2017
  • |
  • 13 Tishrei 5778
  • Comment

Class Summary:

It seems as one the stranger anomalies in Judaism. What could possibly have been so exceptional about pouring water on the Altar, that it occasioned such spectacular celebration? On the contrary, wine is the beverage of joy, not water. I’ve heard of people who had some wine do drink, and ended up on the dance floor, jolly, exuberant, and vivacious. I’ve never heard of someone getting drunk on water.

Yet in the Temple it was the opposite. For the wine pouring on the altar, there was no special celebration. It was just another mitzvah performed. Yet as they poured the water, wow! They erupted in seven straight nights of dancing, celebrating, singing, juggling, acrobats, and ecstatic jubilation.

There is another anomaly here. The Sages say, “One who has not witnessed the Drawing of Water Celebration has never seen true joy in his entire life.” Really? Surely there must be other times of great joy in the lives of people.

There are two sources of joy: external and internal. You can get drunk from wine or from other excitements in your life. But do you know how to get drunk on life itself? Do you know how to find joy from within, with the need for outer stimulants?

But how do you get drunk on life, represented by water? Ah, for this you need to be thirsty for truth, for G-d, for real meaning. Then the daily grind grows beyond exciting.

We tell the story of the child who discovered her own “seven wonders” of the world; of Steven Sotloff, the Jewish freelance journalist who was decapitated by ISIS, who sent a pre Rosh Hashanah message; of John Lenin’s issues in school; and of the Piasetzner Rebbe’s message to his children. 

 Only One Speech

The CEO of a Fortune 500 company calls his speechwriter:

“Next week, I’m making the key presentation at our biggest meeting this year. It’s a crucial time for this company, and I need to address the themes, the vision, and the ideals of this firm. I need a killer speech from you. It needs to be dynamite!”

“No problem,” says the speech writer.

The CEO goes and takes an extended weekend golfing vacation, and that next Tuesday, after the meeting, the CEO calls up his writer in a fury.

“You’re fired!,” he yells at the writer.

“What?,” asks the shocked writer, “Why? What went wrong? I wrote a great speech!”

“Are you out of your mind? I specifically asked for a 20 minute speech, and it took me an hour to get through it: I lost the entire crowd before I was halfway through!”

“An hour?” asks the bewildered speechwriter. “It was definitely a twenty minute speech. Although,” he added, “I did send you three copies…”

The Circus

A farmer once heard that the circus was travelling through the big town nearest to him. He had never managed to catch the show on its tours in past years, so he decided go to the circus for the first time in his life.

To this simple farmer, the show the travelling acrobats, tightrope walkers, jugglers, and knife throwers put on was astonishing, but most of the crowd didn’t seem too impressed, and apparently took more pleasure in booing the performers. At the show’s end, the townspeople took out some rotten vegetables they had apparently brought in anticipation, and began gleefully throwing them at the poor acrobats, who quickly ran off stage.

The farmer was aghast. “This is just part of the fun!,” the man in the seat next to him said.

Suddenly, the townspeople began applauding wildly.

“What’s happening now,” asked the farmer.

“Well, now we want an encore,” his neighbor explained.

“An encore? I thought you hated them?”

“Well yes,” his guide replied, “but we haven’t finished our tomatoes yet.”

Why the Unlimited Joy?

It seems as one the stranger traditions in Judaism.

For as long as the Holy Temple in Jerusalem stood, every year during the festival of Sukkot, the celebration accompanying one particular ritual would bring raucous celebration to the entire city of Jerusalem for seven nights straight. As night descended upon the city, throngs of people would ascend the Temple Mount, to participate in these festivities. Enormous torches of fire, perched on columns several stories high, lit up the Courtyard and the entire Jerusalem, as dancing, music, and displays of acrobatics would continue on into the wee hours of the morning.

Describing the energy of those days, the sage Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah recalled in Talmud tractate Sukkah (53a) that during those days "we tasted no sleep," which gives us some idea of what the party must have been like.

The Talmud describes how the entire city of Jerusalem glowed with light during this time thanks to golden candlesticks more than 70 feet high filled with golden bowls of oil. The greatest Sages would participate joyfully in the celebration, performing the most extraordinary feats. Some of them would bear burning torches in their hands while singing Psalms and other praises of G-d. The Levites would play many various musical instruments, including harps, lyres, cymbals, and trumpets. The great Sage Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel rejoiced by juggling eight lighted torches; he would also kiss the ground as he did head stands, a feat which no one else could do.

Sounds like a great party? The Talmud certainly thought so, and thus declared:

סוכה ריש פרק ה: אָמְרוּ, כָּל מִי שֶׁלֹּא רָאָה שִׂמְחַת בֵּית הַשּׁוֹאֵבָה, לֹא רָאָה שִׂמְחָה מִיָּמָיו:

“Whoever did not witness these celebrations has never in his life seen true joy.”

So now the obvious question is, what was it all about? Precisely what was it that prompted this merriment; what kept up these reveling Rabbis and many thousands more? We would expect some major exciting event caused all this festivity and jubilation.

As it turns out, it was over a flask of water!

The Mishna (Sukkah ch. 5) provides all the details, as they occurred in the later part of the Second Temple period:

“As the sun rose, two priests would emerge from the Sanctuary, with trumpets in hand. As they begin to sound a fanfare, the party would transform into enormous procession, to descend to the Shiloach spring in at the bottom of the Temple Mount....to put some water in a bucket.”

The seven-night celebration was known as “Simchas Beis Hashiavah,” "The Joy of the Water Drawing." Throughout the year, the korbanot, animal sacrifices, which were one of the main features of the Holy Temple were accompanied by some wine that was poured on the top of the Altar at the time of the daily offering. During the seven days of Sukkos, the priest would pour some water along with the wine atop the altar. It was the pouring of the water that generated all this joy. As the verse put it: “You shall draw water with joy!”

Who Gets Drunk From Water?

Yet this is deeply puzzling. What could possibly have been so exceptional about pouring water on the Altar, that it occasioned such spectacular celebration?

On the contrary, wine is the beverage of joy, not water. I’ve heard of people who had some wine do drink, and ended up on the dance floor, jolly, exuberant, and vivacious. The Tanach agrees, as the verse states (Judges 9:13)

שופטים ט, יג: וַתֹּ֤אמֶר לָהֶם֙ הַגֶּ֔פֶן הֶחֳדַ֙לְתִּי֙ אֶת־תִּ֣ירוֹשִׁ֔י הַֽמְשַׂמֵּ֥חַ אֱלֹקִים וַאֲנָשִׁ֑ים וְהָ֣לַכְתִּ֔י לָנ֖וּעַ עַל־הָעֵצִֽים׃

“Wine beings joy to G-d and to people.”

But who ever heard of someone saying: I was in a bad mood. I went out for a drink. I drank 4 glasses of water and I was smashed. It was awesome.”

Yet in the Temple it was the opposite. For the wine pouring on the altar, there was no special celebration. It was just another mitzvah performed. Yet as they poured the water, wow! All the joy came bursting out.

There is another anomaly here. How can the Sages say, “Whoever did not witness the Drawing of the Water celebrations has never in his life seen true joy”? Surely there must be other times of great joy in the lives of people: births, weddings and other personal, communal and national celebrations.

Wine vs. Water

Wine is pleasing to the eye, nose and palate, intoxicating to the brain and exhilarating to the heart. Imbibing it has the power to cause one to celebrate. Wine is a delicacy, expensive, and royal. It is not a vital nutrient for life. And that’s exactly the problem. Wine is an outside factor that affects our brains, activates certain chemicals, and sometimes produces joy. But it is a joy that comes from outside the person himself or herself.

Water, in contrast, is tasteless, scentless and colorless. It does not produce any effect whatsoever on the person, beyond quenching his or her thirst and hydrating the body. Nor is it a delicacy, or unique. It is everywhere, and common. It falls from the skies and is found on earth. But it is the staple of life. Water is a basic building block of life, and we can’t survive without it. Inside your body, your cells are surrounded by a fluid that is mostly water, and your cells themselves are 70 to 95 percent water.

The abundance of water is one of the major reasons that earth can support life. Wherever water flows on this planet, you can be sure to find life.

"When we find water here on Earth — whether it be ice-covered lakes, whether it be deep-sea hydrothermal vents, whether it be arid deserts — if there's any water, we've found microbes that have found a way to make a living there," said Brian Glazer, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, who has studied astrobiology. That's why NASA's motto in the hunt for extraterrestrial life has been "follow the water."

So the celebration of water is the celebration of life itself. We do not glean happiness from external factors, but from life itself.

ראש השנה טז, א: מפני מה אמרה תורה נסכו מים בחג אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא נסכו לפני מים בחג כדי שיתברכו לכם גשמי שנה

And here is the big question: Do you know how to get drunk on life? Not on wine, not on some new gadget, not on your new car, home, iphone, suit, watch, or salary raise, but on life itself?

Most people can sing and dance when they drink; it is intoxication which loosens up a human being from the rigidity that they have become in their minds.

But if you know how to be drunk on life itself, if you know how to be intoxicated by the Divine – not wine – then you have an endless supply. Wine comes only in bottles; it gets depleted. But the joy of water, of life itself, is an endless supply and it keeps you fully aware.

The Seven Wonders

Junior high school students in Chicago were studying the Seven Wonders of the World. At the end of the lesson, the students were asked to list what they considered to be the Seven Wonders of the World. Though there was some disagreement, the following received the most votes:

1. Egypt's Great Pyramids

2. The Taj Mahal in India

3. The Grand Canyon in Arizona

4. The Panama Canal

5. The Empire State Building

6. St. Peter's Basilica

7. China's Great Wall

While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one student, a quiet girl, hadn't turned in her paper yet. So she asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list. The quiet girl replied, "Yes, a little. I couldn't quite make up my mind because there were so many." The teacher said, "Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help."

The girl hesitated, then read: I think the Seven Wonders of the World are:

1. to touch...

2. to taste...

3. to see...

4. to hear... (She hesitated a little, and then added...)

5. to feel...

6. to laugh...

7. and to love.

The room was so quiet; you could hear a pin drop.

Intoxicated with Life

The Baal Shem Tov once said that the greatest miracle is… nature. It is a miracle which keeps on repeating itself.

That was the celebration around the drawing and pouring the water. I want to learn how to become drunk on life! I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness; it's right in front of me if I'm paying attention and practicing gratitude.

Hemingway said: Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know. He also said: Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.

But Sukkos offers a deeper message: the ability to see every moment of life as an extraordinary cause for celebration. When you come home from work, you see your wife anew, as though it was your wedding day. You see your children anew, like the day they were born. You take nothing for granted; every moment is special.

Steven Sotloff, the Jewish freelance journalist who was decapitated by ISIS, sent a message leading up to Rosh Hashanah. In a letter smuggled out by a former cellmate in May 2014, he penned his thoughts to his family. A cousin read his words to the 1,000 mourners who attended the memorial service in Pinecrest, Florida.

“Live your life to the fullest… Everyone has two lives. The second one begins when you realize you only have one.”

John Lennon said: When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.

Now we can understand the statement of the Mishnah, “Whoever did not witness the Drawing of the Water celebrations has never in his life seen true joy”. Really? So we are all doomed! We never saw it! They were not saying that someone who never witnessed this particular ceremony never saw true joy in his life; rather, they were saying that someone who cannot find joy in the celebration of water, someone who cannot find joy in the common, everyday mundane experiences of life, this person will never experience true joy, for he or she always needs an external “high” to make them tick. Their joy will be the joy of wine, a joy from outside, not water, the joy from inside yourself.

How?

But how do I get there? How do I make that leap in my life? how do I begin to start dancing from the water?

Ah, for this we need to study a law together.

משנה ברכות ו, ח: הַשּׁוֹתֶה מַיִם לִצְמָאוֹ - אוֹמֵר: שֶׁהַכֹּל נִהְיָה בִּדְבָרוֹ.

According to Jewish law, “it is forbidden to derive pleasure from this world without a beracha” (Talmud Berachos 35b), a blessing of praise and thanks to G-d. Thus, even the smallest amount of food or drink requires a berachah, since, even if the amount consumed is of little nutritional value, the person derives pleasure from its taste. No matter you sip a cup of orange juice, or celery juice, or you eat a rib steal, you recite beforehand a blessing of gratitude. Water, however, is considered tasteless, so it does not require a berachah unless “one drinks water out of thirst,” in which case, explains the Talmud, a person derives pleasure from this otherwise tasteless liquid.

So if I drink water for social purposes, or to allow food stuck in my throat to pass down, there is no blessing beforehand, since on its own it lacks a taste. It is only my thirst that grans a “taste” to water. When you are thirsty, there is nothing like a cold glass of water! To a thirsty man, a cup of water is tastier than the most delectable wine.

In the spiritual sense, this means that when a soul experiences a “thirst,” that is when we can truly appreciate water. If I am not thirsty, water does not mean much to me. If I am thirsty, geavald! There is nothing as exciting as water. If I have been in the desert sun for a day without water, I’d get drunk on a cup of water.

And here we come to the essence of the Sukkos celebration: When a soul is thirsty for truth, for G-d, for real meaning, then there is nothing as exciting as life. You know why?

Because the mundane is sacred, because that’s where we live, and hence it is where G-d lives. The mundane, the daily grind of life, constitutes the majority of our lives. Sure, we have some mountaintop experiences. We have vacations, celebrations and high moments; we have wedding days and exhilarating experiences. But the vast majority of our lives is spent in the midst of ordinary days. That is why it’s so sacred — because it’s where we live, it’s where G-d is, dwelling inside us. It’s where our guard is down, and we’re not performing; we’re just our raw and real selves, doing our raw and real thing, and that is where G-d meets us.

So when you drink water with thirst, when you engage your daily life, your water, with a thirst and zest for truth for G-d, then the water becomes beyond tasty! The prosaic “water” of mundane-ness, is a feast for its senses. To the soul who thirsts for G-d, the daily opportunities to serve G-d in our day to day boring lives, is more exhilarating than the most profound dramatic experience. To such a soul, the “water” it draws from its deepest self to pour onto its altar of service to G-d is a greater source of joy than the flesh and wine offered upon its altar or the incense wafting through its Temple.

Holy Fire

One of the great Chassidic masters of pre-war Poland was Rabbi Kalonimus Kalman (1889-1943), the Rebbe of Piaseczno. In his Polish city if Piaseczno he founded one of the largest Jewish schools in Poland, gathering around him a kingdom of children. He ran a school with thousands of children, and he was their father, their mother, their best friend.

In 1940, Rabbi Klonimus Kalman and his family were deported by the Germans to the Warsaw ghetto. There he wrote a most precious book called "The Holy Fire", Eish Kodesh, which recounted the teachings he gave in the darkness of the ghetto. He buried the book in a milk barrel underground the ghetto. In 1943 He was short near Lublin. His entire family too was exterminated. After the war, his manuscript was discovered by a construction worker in Warsaw and was given to the Warsaw Jews. In 1957, someone finally realized what it was; it was sent and published in Israel in 1961 (the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote a most beautiful letter to the publishers of Aish Kodesh.) 

To Do a Favor

The famous Jewish composer Reb Shlomeleh Karlebach related this story:

When the book Eish Kodesh came out, I couldn’t believe its beauty, it so pierced my heart. I asked everyone, “Where are those kids? The precious children who heard these teachings every week in Warsaw? I’d love to speak to them.” I was told that nobody survived.

But one day, a few years ago, I was walking down Rechov Yarcon, a street near the beach of Tel Aviv. And there I saw a hunchback; he looked so broken and crushed. His face was beautiful, so handsome, but his body was misshapen. He was sweeping the streets. I had a feeling this person was special and so I said, “Shalom, peace unto you.”

He replied to me in the heaviest Polish “Alaichem shoolem.” I asked if he was from Poland. And he says, “Yes, I’m from Piaseczno.” And I couldn’t believe it—Piaseczno. I asked if he had ever seen the holiest Kalonimus Kalmun, Piaseczno’s master. He said to me, “What do you mean, have I seen him? I was a pupil in his school from the age of five until I was eleven. When I was eleven, I went to Auschwitz. I was so strong they thought I was seventeen. I was whipped and hit and kicked and never healed—that that is why I look the way I do now. I have nobody in the world. I’m all alone. My entire family was murdered.” And he kept on sweeping the streets of Tel Aviv.

I said, “My sweetest friend, do you know, my whole life I’ve been waiting to see you, a person who saw the Master of Piaseczno, a person who was one of his children. Please, share with me one of his teachings.”

The hunchback glared at me. “Do you think you can be in Auschwitz for a few years and still remember teachings?!”

“Yes, I’m sure of it,” I said. “The Master’s teachings—how could you forget them?”

And so he said, “Well, wait.” He went to the water fountain to wash his hands. He fixed his shirt, put on his jacket, and then said to me one more time, “Do you really want to hear it?”

“I swear to you, I’ll share the teachings all over the world.”

So he began. “I want you to know that there never was such a Shabbos as this one in our childhood town of Piaseczno. We danced, hundreds and maybe thousands of children, and the master was singing a song to greet the holy angels, and at the meal he would teach between every course. After every teaching this is what the master would say:

“‘Kinderlach, gedenkt zshe, de gresteh zach in der velt iz tuen emetzen a tovah – Children, remember! The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor.’”

In Auschwitz

The hunchback sighed. “You know, my parents are gone, my whole family, no one exists anymore. And so I was in Auschwitz and all alone and I wanted to commit suicide. At the last moment I could hear my master say, “Kinderlach, children…do somebody else a favor. Do somebody a favor.’”

“Do you know how many favors you can do in Auschwitz at night? People are lying are on the floor crying, and nobody even has any strength to listen to their stories anymore. I would walk from one person to the other and ask, ‘Why are you crying?’ and they would tell me about their children, their wives, people they’d never see in this life again. I would hold their hands and cry with them. Then I would walk to the next person. And it would give me strength for another day. 

“When I was at the end again… I’d hear my Rebbe’s voice. I want you to know I’m here in Tel Aviv and I have no one in the world. And I take off my shoes, go down to the beach, I go up to my nose in the ocean, ready to drown, and I can’t help but hear my Rebbe’s voice saying, “The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor. Remember, my precious children, the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor.’”

He stared at me again for a long time and said, “You know how many favors you can do on the streets of Tel Aviv, on the streets of the world?”

And he kept on sweeping the street.

It was the end of summer and I had to go back to the States for Rosh Hashana. But when I returned to Tel Aviv, I went searching Yarcon, looking for my holy hunchback. I couldn’t find him. I asked some people, who told me, “Don’t you know? He left the world just after Sukkos.”

So on Sukkos we discover how to celebrate life itself. How to find G-d in the daily grind of life. how do find meaning in sweeping the street, in doing someone a favor, in embracing a broken heart, in doing one simply mitzvah, in embracing our children and our friends, in saying a prayer, in learning Torah for a few minutes, in encouraging someone at work, and in nurturing our bodies and our souls, the space where G-d lives.

 

And when you discover the joy therein, your joy never ends.

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    Sukkos 5778

    Rabbi YY Jacobson
    • October 3, 2017
    • |
    • 13 Tishrei 5778
    • |
    • 0 views
    • Comment

    Class Summary:

    It seems as one the stranger anomalies in Judaism. What could possibly have been so exceptional about pouring water on the Altar, that it occasioned such spectacular celebration? On the contrary, wine is the beverage of joy, not water. I’ve heard of people who had some wine do drink, and ended up on the dance floor, jolly, exuberant, and vivacious. I’ve never heard of someone getting drunk on water.

    Yet in the Temple it was the opposite. For the wine pouring on the altar, there was no special celebration. It was just another mitzvah performed. Yet as they poured the water, wow! They erupted in seven straight nights of dancing, celebrating, singing, juggling, acrobats, and ecstatic jubilation.

    There is another anomaly here. The Sages say, “One who has not witnessed the Drawing of Water Celebration has never seen true joy in his entire life.” Really? Surely there must be other times of great joy in the lives of people.

    There are two sources of joy: external and internal. You can get drunk from wine or from other excitements in your life. But do you know how to get drunk on life itself? Do you know how to find joy from within, with the need for outer stimulants?

    But how do you get drunk on life, represented by water? Ah, for this you need to be thirsty for truth, for G-d, for real meaning. Then the daily grind grows beyond exciting.

    We tell the story of the child who discovered her own “seven wonders” of the world; of Steven Sotloff, the Jewish freelance journalist who was decapitated by ISIS, who sent a pre Rosh Hashanah message; of John Lenin’s issues in school; and of the Piasetzner Rebbe’s message to his children. 

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