Water Songs for Sukkot

Listen to the companion playlist "Pillar of Cloud, Buckets of Rain" from Rising Song Records on Spotify.

"Buckets of rain
Buckets of tears
Got all them buckets comin’ out of my ears
Buckets of moonbeams in my hand
I got all the love, honey baby
You can stand"

Bob Dylan

וּשְׁאַבְתֶּם־מַ֖יִם בְּשָׂשׂ֑וֹן מִמַּעַיְנֵ֖י הַיְשׁוּעָֽה׃

Joyfully shall you draw water From the springs of salvation.

Art: "Cloud by Day Fire by Night" by Mordecai Colodner.

Take a sad song and make it better

(א) שִׁ֗יר הַֽמַּ֫עֲל֥וֹת בְּשׁ֣וּב ה' אֶת־שִׁיבַ֣ת צִיּ֑וֹן הָ֝יִ֗ינוּ כְּחֹלְמִֽים׃ (ב) אָ֤ז יִמָּלֵ֪א שְׂח֡וֹק פִּינוּ֮ וּלְשׁוֹנֵ֪נוּ רִ֫נָּ֥ה אָ֭ז יֹאמְר֣וּ בַגּוֹיִ֑ם הִגְדִּ֥יל ה' לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת עִם־אֵֽלֶּה׃ (ג) הִגְדִּ֣יל ה' לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת עִמָּ֗נוּ הָיִ֥ינוּ שְׂמֵחִֽים׃ (ד) שׁוּבָ֣ה ה' אֶת־שבותנו [שְׁבִיתֵ֑נוּ] כַּאֲפִיקִ֥ים בַּנֶּֽגֶב׃ (ה) הַזֹּרְעִ֥ים בְּדִמְעָ֗ה בְּרִנָּ֥ה יִקְצֹֽרוּ׃ (ו) הָ֘ל֤וֹךְ יֵלֵ֨ךְ ׀ וּבָכֹה֮ נֹשֵׂ֪א מֶֽשֶׁךְ־הַ֫זָּ֥רַע בֹּֽ֬א־יָב֥וֹא בְרִנָּ֑ה נֹ֝שֵׂ֗א אֲלֻמֹּתָֽיו׃

(1) A song of ascents. When the LORD restores the fortunes of Zion —we see it as in a dream— (2) our mouths shall be filled with laughter, our tongues, with songs of joy. Then shall they say among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them!” (3) The LORD will do great things for us and we shall rejoice. (4) Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like watercourses in the Negeb. (5) They who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy. (6) Though he goes along weeping, carrying the seed-bag, he shall come back with songs of joy, carrying his sheaves.

Sukkot marks the transition from summer to fall. In the land of Israel, crops are still dependent on winter rains and drought is an ever-present threat. At the end of Sukkot, on Shemini Atzeret, we recite Teffilat Geshem, the prayer for rain, and begin inserting a request for rainfall into our daily prayers.

The cries of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and tears of our heartfelt prayers on Yom Kippur are like the sowing/weeping in verses 5-6 of Psalms 126, whereas the celebration of Sukkot ("z'man simchateinu") is like the reaping/singing at the end of those lines. During the first seven days of Sukkot, we give thanks to the Holy Blessed One for signing and sealing us in the Book of Life, for allowing us to gather in the spiritual harvest. We wave fruits and foliage (the Arba Minim consisting of etrog/citron, lulav/palm, aravot/willows and hadasim/myrtles) and circumambulate holy spaces (Hoshanot) requesting ongoing salvation. But throughout all of this intense period of elongated and embodied prayer, we do not explicitly ask for rain. In fact, during the Hoshana service, we say: "Do not do bad to the valley - sweeten the delicacies and bring salvation, to carry the clouds, to move the rains. Restrain the clouds, open the hand and satiate - satiate Your thirsty ones."

"After so many long days in synagogue," asks Alieza Salzberg Yizhar, "why couldn't we just pray for rain during the Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur? What change occurs over the course of Sukkot to ready us to ask for rain only on Shemini Atzeret?"

Read Yizhar's essay "Simhat Beit HaShoevah: Sukkot Rituals that Spillover" (PDF) in Connection Points, Hadar's High Holidays Reader for 5781, for an exploration of the role of water and (not) praying for it during this special time and continue below to explore the watery depths in text.

Go chasing waterfalls

(א)...אָמְרוּ, כָּל מִי שֶׁלֹּא רָאָה שִׂמְחַת בֵּית הַשּׁוֹאֵבָה, לֹא רָאָה שִׂמְחָה מִיָּמָיו:

(ד) חֲסִידִים וְאַנְשֵׁי מַעֲשֶׂה הָיוּ מְרַקְּדִים לִפְנֵיהֶם בַּאֲבוּקוֹת שֶׁל אוֹר שֶׁבִּידֵיהֶן, וְאוֹמְרִים לִפְנֵיהֶן דִּבְרֵי שִׁירוֹת וְתִשְׁבָּחוֹת. וְהַלְוִיִּם בְּכִנּוֹרוֹת וּבִנְבָלִים וּבִמְצִלְתַּיִם וּבַחֲצוֹצְרוֹת וּבִכְלֵי שִׁיר בְּלֹא מִסְפָּר, עַל חֲמֵשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה מַעֲלוֹת הַיּוֹרְדוֹת מֵעֶזְרַת יִשְׂרָאֵל לְעֶזְרַת נָשִׁים, כְּנֶגֶד חֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת שֶׁבַּתְּהִלִּים, שֶׁעֲלֵיהֶן לְוִיִּים עוֹמְדִין בִּכְלֵי שִׁיר וְאוֹמְרִים שִׁירָה. וְעָמְדוּ שְׁנֵי כֹהֲנִים בַּשַּׁעַר הָעֶלְיוֹן שֶׁיּוֹרֵד מֵעֶזְרַת יִשְׂרָאֵל לְעֶזְרַת נָשִׁים, וּשְׁתֵּי חֲצוֹצְרוֹת בִּידֵיהֶן. קָרָא הַגֶּבֶר, תָּקְעוּ וְהֵרִיעוּ וְתָקָעוּ. הִגִּיעוּ לְמַעְלָה עֲשִׂירִית, תָּקְעוּ וְהֵרִיעוּ וְתָקָעוּ. הִגִּיעוּ לָעֲזָרָה, תָּקְעוּ וְהֵרִיעוּ וְתָקָעוּ. הָיוּ תוֹקְעִין וְהוֹלְכִין, עַד שֶׁמַּגִּיעִין לַשַּׁעַר הַיּוֹצֵא מִזְרָח. הִגִּיעוּ לַשַּׁעַר הַיּוֹצֵא מִמִּזְרָח, הָפְכוּ פְנֵיהֶן לַמַּעֲרָב, וְאָמְרוּ, אֲבוֹתֵינוּ שֶׁהָיוּ בַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה אֲחוֹרֵיהֶם אֶל הֵיכַל ה' וּפְנֵיהֶם קֵדְמָה, וְהֵמָּה מִשְׁתַּחֲוִים קֵדְמָה לַשָּׁמֶשׁ, וְאָנוּ לְיָהּ עֵינֵינוּ.

(1)...They said: Whoever has not seen the Simchat Bet Hashoevah [the Joy of the Water Drawing Ceremony] has never seen rejoicing in his life.

(4) Men of piety and good deeds used to dance before them with lighted torches in their hands, and they would sing songs and praises. And Levites with innumerable harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets and other musical instruments stood upon the fifteen steps leading down from the Court of the Israelites to the Court of the Women, corresponding to the fifteen songs of ascents in the Psalms, and it was on these [steps] that the Levites stood with their musical instruments and sang their songs. Two priests stood by the upper gate which leads down from the Court of the Israelites to the Court of the Women, with two trumpets in their hands. When the cock crowed they sounded a teki'ah, a teru'ah and again a teki'ah. When they reached the tenth step they sounded a teki'ah, a teru'ah and again a teki'ah. When they reached the Court [of the Women] they sounded a teki'ah, a teru'ah and again a teki'ah. They would sound their trumpets and proceed until they reached the gate which leads out to the east. When they reached the gate which leads out to the east, they turned their faces from east to west and said, “Our fathers who were in this place ‘their backs were toward the Temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, and they worshipped the sun toward the east’, but as for us, our eyes are turned to the Lord.”

Why do you think the water-drawing ritual elicited such overflowing exuberance from every demographic in the ancient Jewish scene such that the Sages considered it the purest expression of rejoicing?

א"ר אלעזר כשמנסכין את המים בחג תהום אומר לחבירו אבע מימיך קול שני ריעים אני שומע שנאמר (תהלים מב, ח) תהום אל תהום קורא לקול צנוריך וגו'

Rabbi Elazar said: When the water libation was poured during the festival of Sukkot, these waters of the deep say to the other waters of the deep: Let your water flow, as I hear the voices of two of our friends, the wine libation and the water libation, which are both poured on the altar. As it is stated: “Deep calls to deep at the sound of your channels, all Your waves and Your billows are gone over me” (Psalms 42:8), i.e., the upper waters of the deep call to the lower waters of the deep when they hear the sound of the libations.

Listen to a musical retelling of a related story about the depths from Sanhedrin 52b by Sam Tygiel, an alumn of the 2019-2020 Rising Song Residency: "David and the Primordial Waters"

Hallel from the 2018-2019 fellows of Yeshivat Hadar

Learn nusach for Hallel, High Holidays, Shabbat and Festivals and explore hundreds of new and ancient melodies in the RSI's master classes in Jewish song led by Joey Weisenberg: bit.ly/rising-song-master-classes

Rain's a-gonna fall

אַף בְּרִי אֻתַּת שֵׁם שר מָטָר לְהַעֲבִיב וּלְהַעֲנִין לְהָרִיק וּלְהַמְטַר. מַיִם אִבִּים בָּם גֵּיא לַעֲטַר לְבַל יוּעֲצָרוּ בְּנִשְׁיון שְׁטַר.

אֱמוּנִים גְּנון בָּם שׁואֲלֵי מָטָר: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' מָגֵן אַבְרָהָם: אַתָּה גִבּור לְעולָם אדושם. מְחַיֵּה מֵתִים אַתָּה רַב לְהושִׁיעַ: יַטְרִיחַ לְפַלֵּג מִפֶּלֶג גֶּשֶׁם לְמוגֵג פְּנֵי נֶשִׁי בְּצַחות לֶשֶׁם.

מַיִם לְאַדְרָךְ כִּנִּיתָ בְּרֶשֶׁם לְהַרְגִיעַ בְּרַעֲפָם לִנְפוּחֵי נֶשֶׁם לְהַחֲיות מַזְכִּירִים גְּבוּרות הַגָּשֶׁם:

אֱלקֵינוּ וֵאלקֵי אֲבותֵינוּ: זְכור אָב נִמְשַׁךְ אַחֲרֶיךָ כַּמַּיִם. בֵּרַכְתּו כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל פַּלְגֵי מַיִם. גְּנַנְתּו הִצַּלְתּו מֵאֵשׁ וּמִמַּיִם דְּרַשְׁתּו בְּזָרְעו עַל כָּל מָיִם בַּעֲבוּרו אַל תִּמְנַע מָיִם:

זְכור הַנּולָד בִּבְשורַת יֻקַּח נָא מְעַט מַיִם וְשחְתָּ לְהורו לְשָׁחֲטו לִשְׁפּוךְ דָּמו כַּמַּיִם זִהֵר גַּם הוּא לִשְׁפּוךְ לֵב כַּמַּיִם חָפַר וּמָצָא בְּאֵרות מָיִם. בְּצִדְקו חון חַשְׁרַת מָיִם.

זְכור טָעַן מַקְלו וְעָבַר יַרְדֵּן מַיִם יִחַד לֵב וְגָל אֶבֶן מִפִּי בְאֵר מַיִם כְּנֶאֱבַק לו שר בָּלוּל מֵאֵשׁ וּמִמַּיִם לָכֵן הִבְטַחְתּו הֱיות עִמּו בָּאֵשׁ וּבַמָּיִם. בַּעֲבוּרו אַל תִּמְנַע מָיִם.

זְכור מָשׁוּי בְּתֵיבַת גּומֶא מִן הַמַּיִם נָמוּ דָלה דָלָה וְהִשְׁקָה צאן מַיִם סְגוּלֶיךָ עֵת צָמְאוּ לְמַּיִם עַל הַסֶּלַע הָךְ וַיֵּצְאוּ מָיִם. בְּצִדְקו חון חַשְׁרַת מָיִם.

זְכור פְּקִיד שָׁתות טובֵל חָמֵשׁ טְבִילות בַּמַּיִם

צועֶה וּמַרְחִיץ כַּפָּיו בְּקִדּוּשׁ מַיִם קורֵא וּמַזֶּה טָהֳרַת מַיִם רוּחַק מֵעַם פַּחַז כַּמָּיִם בַּעֲבוּרו אַל תִּמְנַע מָיִם.

זְכור שְׁנֵים עָשר שְׁבָטִים שֶׁהֶעֱבַרְתָּ בְּגִזְרַת מַיִם שֶׁהִמְתַּקְתָּ לָמו מְרִירוּת מַיִם תּולְדותָם נִשְׁפַּךְ דָּמָם עָלֶיךָ כַּמַּיִם תֵּפֶן כִּי נַפְשֵׁנוּ אָפְפוּ מָיִם. בְּצִדְקָם חון חַשְׁרַת מָיִם:

חזן - שָׁאַתָּה הוּא ה' אֱלקֵינוּ מַשִּׁיב הָרוּחַ וּמורִיד הַגֶשֶׁם: לִבְרָכָה וְלא לִקְלָלָה. אמן: לְחַיִּים וְלא לַמָּוֶת. אמן: לְשובַע וְלא לְרָזון. אמן:

Af-Bri is the designated name of the rain angel, who overcasts [the sky], and makes clouds, to empty them and cause rain to fall. Water with currents with which to adorn the valley; let it not be withheld because of [our] unpaid debts.

Let [the merit of] the faithful shield those who pray for rain. Blessed are You, Lord, Shield of Abraham. You are mighty forever, my Master; You are the Resurrector of the dead, the Powerful One, to deliver [us]. He will impose [upon Af-Bri] to divert rain from streams of water; to soften the surface of the earth with sparkling, gem-like drops.

Water [symbolizes] Your might, as You labeled it in Scripture. It reassures, with its drops, those in whom was blown the breath [of life], to keep alive those who mention the powers of rain.

Our God and God of our fathers! Remember the patriarch who was drawn to You like water. You blessed him like a tree planted beside streams of water. You protected him, You rescued him from fire and from water; You sought him out when he sowed beside all waters. For his sake, do not withhold water.

Remember the one whose birth was foretold [when Abraham said:] “Let a little water be brought.” You told his father to sacrifice him, to spill his blood like water. He too [Isaac] was dutiful to spill his blood like water. He dug and found wells of water. In [the merit of] his righteousness grant us abundant water.

Remember the one who, carrying his staff, crossed the Jordan's water. He [Jacob] was single-hearted, and rolled the stone off the mouth of the well of water. When he was attacked by an angel comprised of fire and water, You promised to be with him through fire and through water. For his sake, do not withhold water.

Remember the one [Moses] who was drawn out, in a reed basket, from the water. [About whom] they said, “He drew water and watered the sheep.” When Your treasured ones, thirsted for water, he struck the rock and water gushed out. In [the merit of] his righteousness grant us abundant water.

Remember the Holy Temple appointee, who immersed himself five times in water. He cleansed and washed his hands to sanctify them with water. He read, and was sprinkled with purifying water. He was separated from the people [who were described as] “turbulent as water. For his sake, do not withhold water.

Remember the twelve tribes, whom You brought through the divided waters; for whom You sweetened the bitterness of water. Their descendants, their blood was spilled for Your sake like water. Turn [to us], for our soul is engulfed [with woes] like water. In [the merit of] their righteousness grant us abundant water.

Prayer leader: For You Lord, our God, are Causer of the wind to blow and of the rain to fall. For blessing and not for curse. Amen. For life and not for death. Amen. For plenty and not for scarcity. Amen.

What additions to this prayer might we make to honor the role of the matriarchs, female prophets and other non-male leaders/teachers from our tradition?

Great places to start:

  • Miriam's song/dance by the shore of the Reed Sea and midrashim about the well that followed the Israelites around the desert in her merit
  • Chana's tear-laden supplication in I Samuel 1:9-13 that is considered the archetype for personal prayer.

We'd love to hear your thoughts! Reach out to us at [email protected].

Rise sweet waters

"Forty years of searching shows one thing that’s surely true

You’ve got to find the river first, before you can cross on through

Prophets find the path but they can’t take us to the other side,

So let’s go, ourselves, don’t hide!

Rise, Rise, Rise Rise, Sweet People, let us rise..."

"Rise Sweet Waters" is from the album Nigunim Vol. IV: Brooklyn Spirituals by Joey Weisenberg and the Hadar Ensemble from Rising Song Records.