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12 Tishrei 5761 - October 11, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Ushe'avtem Mayim Besoson -- the Saga of Water

by R' Shlome Leitner

What is the reason that prompted Chazal to institute the great simcha of Beis Hasho'eivo in honor of the mitzvah of nisuch hamayim? It was a simcha so great that the Mishna tells us, "Anyone who did not witness the simcha of Simchas Beis Hasho'eivo, has not seen a simcha in his lifetime." Whence this great simcha?

In the sefer Beer Yosef, in parshas Bereishis the mechaber explains the Medrash Rabbo which tells us what happened at the time when Hakodosh Boruch Hu separated the waters and instructed the Mayim Hatachtonim, the waters that were decreed to come down onto this world, to separate themselves from the upper waters in Heaven. The Medrash tells us that the waters destined to come onto this world were crying about their destination.

The Tosafos HaRosh says that the reason the words ki tov are not mentioned on the second day of creation is because the waters argued that they did not want to come down to this world, to a place of tumah. Hakodosh Boruch Hu then informed the waters that the Yidden would be given a mitzvah of nisuch hamayim, using them in the Beis Hamikdash.

This is a mitzvah wherein the Yidden pour water into a hole on the southwest corner of the Mizbeiach. This hole, which Chazal tell us was created during the week of creation too, went down to the Tehom, the waters below the ground.

However, even with this promise the waters were not appeased. The reason stated is because the waters argued that the mitzvah of nisuch hamayim is but once a year.

Hakodosh Boruch Hu therefore informed the waters that the Yidden would have another mitzvah: placing salt on the Mizbeiach each time a korbon was brought. With this, the waters were finally appeased.

The Beer Yosef implies that the reason the waters were reluctant to come onto this world of tumah was because they too wanted to remain in Heaven, to be near the Shechina, just like the Mayim Ho'elyonim, the upper waters, had the privilege of doing.

Now, the fact is that the amount of water in our world is a "drop in the ocean" compared to the waters which are in Heaven. Moreover, the three luggin of water used each time for the mitzvah of nisuch hamayim is again no more than a "drop in the ocean" compared to the waters on earth.

The mitzvah of nisuch hamayim was only performed for six days each year and for just a total of 830 years during the time of the two Botei Mikdosh. So the total amount of water that was ever used for the mitzvah of nisuch hamayim is minute compared to all the waters which are in Heaven and on earth. Yet Hakodosh Boruch Hu informed the Mayim Hatachtonim that the mitzvah of nisuch hamayim will compensate them for all the merits that the Heavenly waters receive by being in Heaven near the Shechina for thousands of years.

We learn from this the exceptional importance that Hakodosh Boruch Hu places on the mitzvah of Nisuch Hamayim. And it is precisely for this reason that Chazal saw it fit to institute such a great simcha.

The question which has yet to be answered is why the waters were not appeased with this offer but yet they were satisfied once they were told that the Yidden would receive the mitzvah of placing salt on the mizbeiach with each and every korbon.

When the people of the Dor Haflogo wished to build the tower to reach the Heavens, they went around looking for a suitable place to build it. The posuk in Bereishis (11:2) tells us where they found their suitable place. "They found a valley in the land of Shin'or." The question is, if they wanted to build a tower to reach the Heavens, why start from a valley? It would seem to have been more appropriate to build it on a high mountain.

The answer given is because they needed to build their tower in a place of tumah, and a valley is just such a place, because it is further away from Shomayim. In contrast, a high place such as a mountain top, is a place of kedusha as it is nearer to Shomayim. Hence the Beis Hamikdash was built on Har Hamoria. Also, matan Torah was on Har Sinai.

A human being who has a tzelem Elokim must walk upright, with his head higher than the remainder of his body. Thus the head is at a higher level of kedusha than the rest of the body. An animal however, which does not have a tzelem Elokim does not generally walk around with its head higher than its body.

It might be that the basic reluctance of the waters to come down onto this world was because of the fact that its nature would be to always flow to the deepest level available. Water by nature will always flow downwards to the lowest place, and it was this that the waters did not want. It understood that this world required water to survive, but why must the water have this natural tendency to always flow downwards? Why can it not also stay on higher ground, like other substances?

From the Mishna in Mikvo'os it is presumed that snow and ice are not considered water. It is also a fact that both snow and ice will stay put even on the highest mountain peaks and not flow downwards. They will only flow downwards once they start to melt and become water (again).

To this Hakodosh Boruch Hu answered that for the mitzvah of nisuch hamayim this phenomena of always seeking to flow downwards is essential since it ensures that the waters will flow down freely into the Tehom. We suggest that the waters perhaps understood this, but still were not fully reconciled to the prospect of forever having to flow downwards, away from kedusha.

Hakodosh Boruch Hu therefore informed the waters that the Yidden would be given a mitzvah of placing salt on the Mizbeiach with each and every korbon.

The salt on the Mizbeiach has to be extracted from sea water. The way to extract salt from sea water is to boil the water which then evaporates and rises into the air, leaving the salt behind. When the waters understood that this mitzvah would enable them to rise upwards once again, they were appeased.

It is also interesting to note how the water cycle works. Although water by nature flows to the lowest depths it also rises to the highest of all worldly levels to form our clouds.

Next time you stand marveling at a waterfall, spare a thought about how diligently the waters fulfill their obligations since the Creation. This is just to enable us to once again fulfill the mitzvah of nisuch hamayim with them -- bimheiro beyomeinu.

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