In the times of Korbanos, Sukkos meant the festivities of Simchas Beis HaShoeiva. People celebrate it’s memory today with ecstatic parties, with music, singing and dancing.
It’s origins are from the time of the daily Tamid sacrifice, which was brought with wine. On Sukkos, it would be accompanied by water as well, the Nisuch HaMayim, to mark the beginning of the rainy season and it’s prayers. The water was drawn from Shiloach, a nearby spring. Before that, the people would celebrate through the night, and the water would be drawn at daybreak for the morning sacrifice.
It is said that someone who didn’t see the festivities of Simchas Beis HaShoeiva never witness true celebration.
What was so special about this celebration, and what was the meaning of the practice?
The Midrash teaches that Simchas Beis HaShoeiva is related to Genesis. The lower waters would be distanced from God and the upper waters, from which land emerged. For this apparent indignity, the lower waters benefit from a covenant that they would take pride of place in the happiest service at the Beis HaMikdash, the Simchas Beis HaShoeiva.
The Midrash is idiosyncratically cryptic. But broadly, it speaks of a distance between God and another, and the longing for closeness, which is bridged once a year.
How much of a consolation is this really; does a one off ceremony compensate for a lifetime of distance?
The Sfas Emes frames the Midrash differently. The ceremony is not a compensation at all. The fact that it’s place is in the Beis HaMikdash, at the happiest moment, indicates that the indignity of the distance is a mistake of perception. If it belongs on the Mizbeach, there was no issue to start with. It is this insight that was worth celebrating wildly.
Sometimes there is a dissonance between the things we see and how we think they ought to be. Simchas Beis HaShoeiva bridges the gap. Even the things we least understand are sacred and meaningful.