What happened on the 15th?
Purim is the 14th of Adar because something happened on that
day. The same can be said for Tish'a b'Av and the other fast days related to the
destruction of the Temples. Our modern dates of Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom
Yerushalayim are on the dates that something momentous happened.
Tur says that had the mitzva of Sukka been commanded at Pesach-time, it would not be noticeable that we are performing a mitzva; it would seem that we are merely seeking the comfortable environment of the Sukka in the warming springtime. On the other hand, when we leave our homes as others are returning to theirs in anticipation of cooler and wetter weather, the mitzva aspect of Sukka is manifest.
Rambam seems to take an opposite view, namely that the timing of Sukkot is a kind gesture by G-d - we dwell in the Sukka when it is neither too hot nor to cold to do so in an enjoyable manner. (A lot depends upon where you live - Eretz Yisrael is highly recommended.)
Ramban says that Sukkot is set at the other side of the year
from Pesach to emphasize that we must appreciate G-d's having taken us out of
Egypt and protecting us in the Wilderness - ALL YEAR ROUND. Pesach and Sukkot
are each a 7-day commemoration of the Exodus, each begins on the 15th day of the
first month of the year (both Nissan and Tishrei are first months).
If you say CLOUDS OF GLORY, then, according to the Vilna Gaon, after Sin of the Golden Calf, the Clouds left the people. Only after the command to build the Mishkan, and after the materials were collected and the construction was about to begin, did the Clouds return. The GR"A says that this corresponded to the 15th of Tishrei, hence that date for Sukkot.
Menorat HaMaor suggests that the timing of Sukkot carries an important message for the (agrarian) Jew, who has just brought in the harvest and is about to tuck himself comfortably into his home for the winter. He would usually burst with pride at what he has accomplished. The mitzva of Sukka is perfect to bring the Jew out of his complacency and remind him - in the frail Sukka - of G-d's dominion over nature.
Chidushei HaRim explains the timing of Sukkot is "necessitated"
by the reason given for the mitzva of Sukka - L'MAAN YEI'D'U DOROTEICHEM... In
order that your generations shall KNOW... The level of KNOWLEDGE can be achieved
best (or only) in an atmosphere that is sin-free, only immediately following the
Yamim Nora'im. Our sources say that a person does not sin unless he is overcome
by foolishness. Thus, we are capable of fulfilling the mitzva of Sukka best
during the days following Yom Kippur.
However, the festivities of the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah "override neither Shabbat nor Yom Tov"; they took place only during Chol Hamo'ed - the intermediate days of the festival. Therefore "on the eve of Shabbat, they used to fill a gold flagon… with water drawn from the Shiloach" (the spring south of Jerusalem) to use on Shabbat for Nisuch Hamayim without the usual festivities.
The validity of these two rites was a major point of contention between the Pharisaic Sages and the Sadducees who negated the authenticity of the Oral Tradition. During the course of the morning Tamid sacrifice, the Nisuch Hamayim was poured into one of two silver cups on the southwest corner of the top of the Altar. The Sages maintained that Nisuch Hamayim, even though it had no specific Biblical source, was an integral part of the Sukkot service and been orally revealed to Moses on Sinai. The Sadducees denied this. The Sadducees also opposed the accompanying celebrations of Simchat Beit Hasho'evah.
Nisuch Hamayim - coming right before the beginning of the rainy
season - was seen as a silent entreaty for bountiful rain. The great Tanna R.
Akiva, who lived after the Destruction of the Temple, conceived the water
libation as a supplication. He pictured G-d saying, "Pour out water before Me on
Sukkot, so your rains this year will be blessed." It is believed that the amount
of rainfall for the coming year was determined on Sukkot.
The celebrations of the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah started after the conclusion of the late afternoon daily Tamid - the last sacrifice of the day. Four colossal golden oil candelabra were positioned in the Temple Court; at night they shed enormous amounts of light. all over Jerusalem. The Mishna remarks that "There was not a courtyard in Jerusalem which was not illuminated by the light of the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah. The Gemara adds, "A woman could sift wheat" by the light of these candelabra.
The focus of the celebration was the fifteen semi-circular stairs and the open area immediately in front of them located on the western side of the Court of the Women. The Mishna in Midot describes these stairs, "Fifteen stairs led up from (The Court of the Women) to the Court of the Israelites, corresponding to the fifteen Songs of Ascents [Psalms 120-134] in T’hilim and upon them the Levites used to sing."
On either side of the stairs were rooms where the musical instruments were stored. (see picture)
While huge crowds watched the proceedings, only the spiritual leaders of the people - "men of piety and good deeds" were permitted to actually dance. They danced "with burning torches in their hands singing songs and praises" and were accompanied by "countless Levites with harps, lyres, cymbals, trumpets, and other musical instruments" who stood behind them on the stairs.
"They said of R. Simeon ben Gamliel that when he rejoiced at the
time of the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah, he used to take eight lit torches (and
throw them into the air) and catch one and throw one and they did not touch."
Very early - at "cock-crow", kohanim opened the Nicanor Gates and sounded the trumpets (chatzotzrot); this signaled the conclusion of that night's celebrations. The kohanim descended the stairs and sounded the trumpet when they reached the tenth step and once again when they reached the level of the Court of the Women. As they continued eastward, the enormous crowd followed them.
"When they reached the Gate (of the Women's Court) which leads to the east, they turned their faces to the west (facing the Temple) and said, 'Our fathers when they were in this place stood with their backs towards the Temple of the Lord and their faces towards the east, and they worshiped the sun towards the east (Ez. 8: 16), but as for us, our eyes are turned towards the Lord."
When the procession reached the Shiloach, the kohanim sounded the trumpets and drew water into a golden flagon. When they returned to the Temple, they did not enter through the Court of the Women; instead they entered through the Sha'ar Hamayim - the Water Gate. Sha'ar Hamayim, usually closed, was located in close proximity to the Altar and was opened especially for these occasions to facilitate the entrance of the kohanim.
During the course of the morning Tamid sacrifice, to the accompaniment of trumpets, the kohein gadol (though it was not a requirement that he personally perform the rite) ceremoniously poured the water into the western of the two silver cups on the southwestern corner of the Altar. At the same, another kohein poured the daily Nisuch Hayayin (the wine libation) into the eastern cup.
The kohein gadol was required to hold the pitcher of water high
above his head so the gathered assemblage could see that the libation was done
properly. The people called out to the ministering kohein, "Raise your hand
high!" This was necessary because once a Sadducee kohein gadol, who wanted to
show his disdain for the Oral Traditions, beloved by the people, spilled the
water on his feet instead of pouring it into the silver cup on the Altar. Both
the Gemara and Josephus describe how the angry crowd pelted the contemptuous
kohein gadol with their etrogim causing a riot! One may assume that afterwards
Sadducean kohanim were more respectful!
Catriel gives illustrated lectures on the Beit Hamikdash and related topics. Call him at (02) 652-7531 or firstname.lastname@example.org