The Temple-Lighting Ceremony

 

        The celebration of the water pouring (as opposed to the ceremony) was observed during the evenings of the feast by an impressive light ceremony in the Temple. It was known as the Simchet Bet Hasho'ayva ("The Rejoicing of the House of Water Drawing"). As the second evening of Tabernacles approached, the people crowded into the vast outer court of the Temple known as the Court of the Women. On this occasion a barrier was raised to divide the men from the women. In the center of the court stood four towering menorahs (lamp stands), each with four branches of oil lamps. Their wicks were manufactured from the worn-out linen garments of the priests. Each menorah had four long ladders leading up to the lamps which were periodically refilled by young priests carrying large pitchers of olive oil. The Feast of Tabernacles began in the middle of the lunar month when the harvest moon was full and the autumn sky was clear. The outline of the surrounding Judean hills was clearly visible in the soft moonlight. Against this backdrop, the light of the Temple celebration was breathtaking. All night long, the elders of the Sanhedrin performed impressive torch dances, while the steady yellow flames of the menorah oil lamps flooded the Temple and the streets of Jerusalem with brilliant light.

 

        Soon after the celebration was underway, a group of Levites gathered in the Inner Court in what was known as the Court of the Israelites. Once formed, the group of Levites moved through the Nicanor Gate to stand at the top of the 15 steps leading down to the Court of the Women. The sound of Temple flutes, trumpets, harps, and other stringed instruments swelled as the Levites sang the 15 Psalms of Degrees (Psalms 120-134). With each new psalm they descended to the next step.

 

        This celebration was repeated every night from the second night until the final night as a prelude to the water drawing the next morning. Nothing in ancient Israel compared to this light celebration. It was so spectacular that the ancient rabbis said, "He that hath not beheld the joy of the drawing of the water (the Simchet Bet Hasho'ayva celebration) hath never seen joy in his life (Sukkah 5:1). The light celebration was reminiscent of the descent of the Shekinah glory in Solomon's day and looked forward to the return of the Shekinah glory in the days of the Messiah:

 

Ezekiel 43:1-6  - Afterward he brought me to the gate, even the gate that looked toward the east: [2] And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and his voice was like a noise of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory. [3] And it was according to the appearance of the vision which I saw, even according to the vision that I saw when I came to destroy the city: and the visions were like the vision that I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell upon my face. [4] And the glory of the Lord came into the house by the way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east. [5] So the spirit took me up, and brought me into the inner court; and, behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house. [6] And I heard him speaking unto me out of the house; and the man stood by me. 

Feast of Tabernacles