The Second Night of Sukkot

The full moon of Tishrei is the harvest festival of Sukkot, when we build temporary booths (sukkot) to dwell in, and wave four species of plant (the citron, palm, myrtle and willow) in celebration of the abundance of the earth and the presentness of Shekhinah. Karen Enfield suggests new rituals, based in ancient custom, for dwelling in the sukkah.

"You shall draw forth water in joy from the wellsprings of salvation--Ushavtem mayim b'sason mimayney hayeshua
Isaiah 12:3

There is a Jewish circle dance called “Mayim Mayim” (“Water Water”) that has popularized these words for us. These words from Isaiah refer to the joy and celebration of the drawing of the waters ceremony that occurred on the second night of Sukkot at the holy Temple when it stood. Sukkot is known as the time of our joy, and it was said in those days that whoever did not experience the drawing of the waters celebration at the Temple had never experienced true joy.

Sukkot is said to bless us in relation to the element of water, and this drawing of the waters ceremony drew down Shekhinah, and blessed Israel as well as the other nations with beneficial rains and the blessings of water. Interestingly, the mitzvah (commandment) of sukkah dwelling and the mitzvah of mikvah or ritual immersion are the only two mitzvahs that we do with our entire bodies, and both have to do with water, either real or symbolic. In fact, when entering the sukkah, I sometimes imagine it as a kind of mikvah.

On the second night of Sukkot, the high priest of the Temple would draw special waters from an underground spring called “Shiloach” that flowed near the temple grounds—these waters were known as the wellsprings of salvation and were considered to be a source of prophecy and revelation. The priest would enter the Temple grounds through the Water gate in the south, bearing a gold flask of water, approaching an altar where four high torches were burning in the north. The water of the sacred wellsprings served as a libation to be poured over a stone altar while the priest faced southwest (direction of water and earth), thus drawing water and prophecy down to earth. Sacred animal offerings were also burned on behalf of the nations, a sort of Yom Kippur atonement on their behalf. If the offering was accepted, it is said that a heavenly fire in the shape of a lion would appear to consume it.

A carnival-like atmosphere ensued amongst the people and an entire night of song, dance, juggling and prophecy took place. On Yom Kippur we read about the prophet Jonah and his prophetic warnings about Nineveh. It is said by our tradition that it was during the drawing of the waters celebration at the Temple on the second night of Sukkot that Jonah received this prophecy.

To remember the ceremony that blessed Israel and the nations in their relationship with water, and to draw down all the blessings of water, wisdom, and joy this season, I would like to offer suggestions for dwellings under the sukkah, especially during the evening, that will connect us with the experiences of our ancestors and enhance our kavannah (intention) when fulfilling the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah this season:

Burn four tea candles in the north area of the sukkah, or decorate with four fire symbols in the north, to remember the four torches that burned in the temple and bring in the element of fire from the north.

Have an opening in the sukkah such as an entrance or window in the south to represent the water gate of the temple where the high priest would enter with the water libation, thus welcoming the element of water.

Hang symbols in the sukkah such as colorful cups that symbolize water to draw down blessings and Shekhinah from above.

Place a table in the center of the sukkah where a pitcher of clean drinking water sits on a stone for guests to enjoy.

Have unprocessed foods from the bounty of the earth freely available for eating, to honor the fruits of earth. Eating in the sukkah is a special mitzvah.

Hang gourds from the earth to physically and symbolically honor the earths greater spiritual significance during Sukkot.

The Kabbalists say we are visited in the sukkah by supernal “ushpizin” or guests such as Abraham, Isaac, etc. In the spirit of this tradition and to draw the heavens down to earth, invite departed loved ones or special biblical ancestors you connect with to bring the spiritual world closer to earth.

Invite “ushpizin,” guests of friends and family to eat, drink, and dwell in the sukkah.

Sing songs, especially “Mayim mayim”. If you feel called to dance in a circle, dancing at night in a moon-wise direction (counter-clockwise) is something I personally like to encourage.

Play fun musical instruments like they did in the evenings during the celebration of the water drawing (except on festival days and Shabbat).

Burn incense to remember the smoke of the burnt offerings for atonement of Israel and the nations, and to create new fires in our hearts.

Have special meditations and prayers related to healings/tikkun for ourselves, Israel, and the world.

Plant a seed in the earth to honor the cycle of the seasons. There are 120 days from Sukkot to Tu B’Shevat, and 120 years is said to be the lifespan of an upright and righteous person. It was the lifespan of Moses, of whom it is said that he married himself to Shekhinah.

The sukkah is where we bring together the six directions and the elements of earth, thereby creating sacred space for Shekhinah, through which the blessings of the upper worlds are drawn down to us. We dwell under vegetation and gourds, opening ourselves up to the skies and elements, honoring creation in the time of its spiritual renewal, and thereby drawing heaven down to earth to share in our joy. The earth-centered mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah and celebrating Sukkot illustrates most poignantly the purpose of all mitzvot in Judaism: physical actions with spiritual intent is what draws Shekhinah to us, heaven down to earth, and sacredness, healing, and blessing.

Karen Enfield is an earth-based Jewish ritualist and writer on the West Coast

more tishrei wisdom

back to top