Mishnah Sukkot
Chapter IV

by Jonathan Wolf

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Chapter 4

In this chapter, we observe how the rites of the four species were carried out during Temple times. A grand procession of waving lulavin, singing, dancing, and rejoicing was held around the Altar. Additionally, a ceremony known as the "water libation" was held. Today, in addition to the Hoshanna procession, we begin to recite the prayer for rain in the Land of Israel.

Mishnah 1:

The lulav and the willow branch (ceremonials) — sometimes (continued) for six days and sometimes for seven days; the Hallel and the "rejoicing" (continued) for eight days; the sukkah and the water libation (continued) for seven days; and the flute playing (continued) for sometimes five or six days.

Mishnah 2:

The lulav ceremonial for seven days. How so? If the first day of the festival happened to fall on the Sabbath, the lulav during the other seven days; but if it on the other days, then during six days only.

Mishnah 3:

The willow branch for seven days. How so? If the seventh day of the willow branch happened to fall on the Sabbath, the willow branch continued seven days; but if on the other days, then during six days.

Commentary:

These mishnayot are concerned with the benediction over the lulav and the carrying of the willow branches by the priests around the altar. These rites were continued for six or seven days according to whether they did not or did override the Sabbath. At the drawing of the water ceremony, they sued to play on flutes and on harps and they did not supersede the law of Shabbat or yom tov. This music was continued throughout every night until dawn.

Mishnah 4:

What was the rite of the lulav? If the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles happened to fall on the Sabbath, they brought their lulavin to the Temple Mount and the superintendents took them from them and arranged them on the roof of the colonnade, but the older people placed theirs in an office. And they taught them to say, ‘Whoever takes up my lulav in his hand let it be his as a gift’. The following day they came early and the superintendents threw them before them, and they snatched at them and struck one another. And when the court saw that they incurred danger they ordained that every man should carry his lulav to his own home.

Mishnah 5:

What was the rite of the willow branch? There was a place below Jerusalem called Motsa. They went down there and collected young willow branches, and they came and set them up right along the sides of the Altar with their tops bent over the top of the Altar. They then sounded a prolonged blast, a quavering note, and a prolonged blast. Each day they walked in procession once around the Altar and recited ‘We beseech Thee. O Eternal, save, we pray; we beseech Thee, O Eternal, send prosperity we pray.’ Rabbi Yehudah says, ‘We beseech Thee, O Eternal, save, we pray’. But on that day, they walked in procession around the Altar seven times. When they separated what did they say? — ‘To thee, O Altar, is beauty due; to thee, O Altar, is beauty due. Rabbi Eliezer says, ‘To the Eternal and to thee, O Altar, to the Eternal and to thee, O Altar.

Commentary:

There is not much to comment on here. We see a description of the pageantry of the procession around the Altar. How stirring and awe inspiring such a scene must have been. As you watch the processions in synagogue, try to visualize a time when hundreds of people would be in such a procession.

Mishnah 6:

Just as the rite was carried out on a week day, so was the rite fulfilled on a Sabbath, except that they used to gather them on the eve of the Sabbath and placed them in golden vessels that they might not wither. Rabbi Yochannen ben Baroka says, They used to bring palm twigs and beat them on the ground at the sides of the Altar, and that day was called "the day of beating the palm twigs.

Mishanh 7:

Forthwith, the children threw away their lulavin and ate their citrons.

Commentary:

These mishnayou are describing what took place on the seventh day when the people left the Temple. They used to beat their lulavin against the ground in a spirit of festivity. The same is true for the remaining three mishnayot which we present without comment. A "log" is a liquid measure equal to about 0.5 pints.

Mishnah 8:

The Hallel and the ‘rejoicing’ eight days. How so? This is to teach us that a man is in duty bound to recite the Hallel and observe the rejoicing and the honor due to the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles as on all other days of the Festival. The sukkah for seven days. How so? When one has finished eating he must not pull down his sukkah, but he may bring down the utensils from the afternoon and later, out of respect for the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles.

Mishnah 9:

The water libation ceremony. How so? A golden flagon holding three "log"

(about 1.5 pints) was filled from the pool of Shiloah. When they arrived at the Water Gate, they sounded a prolonged blast, a quavering note, and a prolonged blast. He (the kohen) went up the ramp and turned to his left where there were two silver bowls. Rabbi Yehudah says, They were of plaster, but their surfaces were blackened because of the wine. And they each had a hole like a narrow spout, one wide and the other narrow, so that both were emptied out together, the one to the west was for water and that to the east for wine. If one emptied out that for water into the one for wine or that for wine into the one for water, it was valid. Rabbi Yehudah says, With one "log" they could carry out the libations all the eight days. To him who performed the libation they used to say, "Raise they hand", for on one occasion he poured it over his feet and all the people pelted him with citrons.

Mishnah 10:

Just as the rite was performed on a week day, so was the rite carried out on a Sabbath except that on the eve of the Sabbath they used to fill a golden jar which had not been sanctified from the pool of Shiloah and put it in a chamber. If it were spilled or uncovered it was refilled from the laver, because wine or water that had been uncovered is ritually unfit for the Altar.

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