In the days when the Jerusalem Temple functioned, the Chol ha Moed days of Sukkot began with the ceremony of “Rejoicing at the pouring of water”- Simchat Beit HaSho’eivah. It is thought by many to be a ritual connected to the seasonal prayer “for rain at the appropriate time”, and as its name (simchat) implies, it was very joyous.
"And you shall draw waters with joy from the wells of salvation (Isaiah. 12:3)
Obadiah ben Maimon, the Jewish sufi, describes the soul of the contemplative as being like a water cistern or well which needs constant cleaning. (Treatise of the Pool ch.10). In his view, the work of the contemplative is to remove everything there which is not God. This includes any attempt to codify and define the nature of a God who cannot be pinned down...and all the "idols" or God-substitutes we might place in the empty niche of our hearts. That space needs to be cleared if it is to be filled by the "indescribable" God alone.
This image restates what is obvious to all sincere contemplatives of whatever religious affiliation: that a singularity of purpose in making space in our hearts for the well-spring of God’s presence is not just the only way to progress in the spiritual life, it is also the only way for a true contemplative to feel untarnished happiness and fulfilment.
“Solo Dios basta” as the Carmelite Teresa of Avila would say...--- Only God can satisfy us.
“Soli Deo” as Bruno of the Carthusians (and some translators of the Sh’ma) would say...--- God alone.
And in the words of Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev:
“A person must fear God so much that his ego is totally nullified. Only then can he attach himself to Ein Sof. Then a new sustenance, filled with all good, flows to all universes.”
Cleaving to God means a positive attachment but it also requires our own active “soul-cleaning” from all that might become a God-substitute.
If we have that “singularity of purpose” which enables us to work at clearing the debris in that source-pool of water, we may begin to reflect something of the light of God. The water which then flows out may then do God's will and not ours. In doing this,our acts of contemplative prayer themselves become the vehicle for something greater than our own satisfaction or even our own personal well being. They become an act of healing and repair.
-Simchat Beit Ha Sho'eivah
-Rejoicing at the Pouring of the Waters
This "Cleaving to God alone" is a Jewish Contemplative’s deepest core practice.
By "celebrating" it, a contemplative may enable the Waters of Life to flow out from Jerusalem.
That is boundless Joy.
(The photo which heads this short reflection is of an aquaduct built by Juan de la Cruz at a Discalced Carmelite monastery in Granada).
N R Davies
Sept 26 2010