1) STRAINING WATER ON SHABBOS
QUESTION: The Mishnah states that if the water that was set aside before Shabbos for use for the Nisuch ha'Mayim on Shabbos was left uncovered, it may not be used on the Mizbe'ach. Instead, water from the Kiyor is used. The Gemara asks that the water that was left uncovered still should be usable for the Nisuch ha'Mayim by being strained, at least according to Rebbi Nechemyah who maintains that straining the water effectively separates the venom of the snake from the water. The Gemara answers that even Rebbi Nechemyah would not permit straining in order to use the water on the Mizbe'ach, because it is still disrespectful to use such water.
The Gemara's suggestion that the water be strained and then used for Nisuch ha'Mayim is difficult to understand. The Mishnah's case involves water which was left uncovered on Shabbos, and the use of a strainer on Shabbos is prohibited mid'Oraisa because of the Melachah of "Borer" (Shabbos 138b). (CHAZON ISH 150:23)
Moreover, even if, for some reason, straining the water does not constitute the Melachah d'Oraisa of Borer, it still should be prohibited mid'Rabanan because of "Tikun Kli," since the act makes the water fit for use for the Mitzvah (as mentioned in Sukah 33b).
(a) RAV YOSEF SHALOM ELYASHIV shlit'a (quoted in He'oros b'Maseches Sukah) answers that the Gemara does not mean that the water should be strained to separate the venom from the water. Rather, the Gemara means that the water should be strained to ensure that no venom entered the water in the first place (i.e., that no snake drank from it). Once it can be determined that no snake drank from the water, the water may be used, and it is not necessary to take water from the Kiyor. The use of a strainer to determine that there is no venom in the water is not considered Borer, because the act of straining is not done in this case for the purpose of separating. Rather, it is merely a way to determine ("Giluy Milsa") the state of this water. Even if the strainer shows that there is venom in the water, the act of straining is not Borer, because the presence of venom in the water renders the water unfit for use on the Mizbe'ach. When both items (the item that passes through the strainer and the item collected in the strainer) are unusable, the act is not Borer. Borer applies only when one separates Pesoles (unusable material) from Ochel (usable material), but not when one separates Pesoles from Pesoles.
Rav Elyashiv adds that the Gemara knew that if venom is found in the water, it is inappropriate to use the water on the Mizbe'ach, even after the venom is removed. The Gemara thought, however, that if no venom is found, the water may be used on the Mizbe'ach. The Gemara concludes (in order to answer its question) that even if no venom is found, it is not respectful to the Mizbe'ach to use water that was left uncovered.
According to this explanation, however, when the Gemara asks that they should simply strain the water, the Gemara should answer that they do strain it in order to determine that there is nothing in the water. When the Mishnah says that they must use the water from the Kiyor, it refers to a case where the strainer shows that there is venom in the water that was left uncovered. (M. Kornfeld)
(b) Perhaps an alternative approach may be proposed as follows. RASHI in the Mishnah (48b) explains that the problem with using uncovered water for the Nisuch ha'Mayim is that some of the water might have been replaced with venom, and thus the necessary amount of water is no longer present (see Insights to Sukah 48:2). According to Rashi, it is clear why straining the water presents no problem of Borer or Tikun Kli. The purpose of straining the water is not to remove the venom. Rather, the straining is done simply to determine how much of the mixture is venom and how much is water. After the amount of water left has been determined, more water may be added as necessary. The act of straining is not done in order to separate something that is unusable from something that is usable (since Rashi understands that there is nothing inherently wrong with venom added to the minimum amount of water necessary for Nisuch ha'Mayim); it merely serves to measure how much water there is. "Medidah Shel Mitzvah," "measuring for the sake of a Mitzvah," is permitted on Shabbos (Shabbos 157a).
Perhaps this question -- how can the Gemara permit straining on Shabbos -- is what motivated Rashi on the Mishnah to explain that the Gemara assumes that the reason why water left uncovered may not be used is because of the possibility that some of the water is missing, and not because that water is forbidden to be consumed (as the Yerushalmi says; see Insights to Sukah 48:2). (M. Kornfeld)
2) AGADAH: "SIMCHAS BEIS HA'CHASHUVAH"
QUESTION: According to one opinion, the celebration of the Nisuch ha'Mayim is not called "Simchas Beis ha'Sho'evah," but rather "Simchas Beis ha'Chashuvah." The Gemara explains that according to this opinion, the celebration is called "Simchas Beis ha'Chashuvah" because it has been distinguished ("Chashuvah") since the six days of Creation.
In what way has the Nisuch ha'Mayim been distinguished since Creation? RASHI explains that during the six days of Creation, Hash-m formed the Shisin (the ducts underneath the Mizbe'ach) into which the Nesachim flow when they are poured upon the Mizbe'ach.
Why, though, does that make the Nisuch ha'Mayim and its celebration so distinguished? The Shisin are used for all Nesachim, and not only for the Nisuch ha'Mayim. The wine of the Nisuch ha'Yayin -- which is performed every day -- also flows into the Shisin.
(a) TOSFOS cites the Yerushalmi that says that the verse, "u'She'avtem Mayim b'Sason" (see 48b), refers to the Nisuch ha'Mayim because it is at that time that Ru'ach ha'Kodesh is drawn ("Sho'evah") upon the people. The immense joy that the people experience at the Simchas Beis ha'Sho'evah enables them to attain Ru'ach ha'Kodesh.
The Gemara here can be understood based on the Yerushalmi as follows. It is true that the Shisin serve the wine of the Nisuch ha'Yayin in the same way that they serve the water of the Nisuch ha'Mayim. However, the Nisuch ha'Mayim is performed at a time of great joy, when the Shechinah dwells amidst the people. Since much greater spiritual heights are attained at the time of Nisuch ha'Mayim, it must be that Hash-m prepared the Shisin "from the days of Creation" primarily for the Nisuch ha'Mayim.
(b) The MAHARSHA explains that during the six days of Creation, the Shisin were formed so that they reached all the way to the Tehom, the subterranean depths beneath the earth's surface. If the Shisin were necessary only for the wine of Nisuch ha'Yayin, then there would be no need for them to descend to the Tehom. It must be that the Shisin were formed specifically for the Nisuch ha'Mayim, in order for the water that is poured onto the Mizbe'ach to descend to the depths of the earth. It is through the Nisuch ha'Mayim that the Jewish people beseech Hash-m to send water "from the heavens and the depths" at the time of the year at which they are judged for water (Rosh Hashanah 16a).
(c) The SEFAS EMES explains the Gemara differently. He explains the Gemara based on the words of RASHI on the Chumash (Vayikra 2:13), who writes that at Creation, when the upper waters were separated from the lower waters, Hash-m promised the lower waters that they, too, would eventually be used for a holy purpose -- they would be offered upon the Mizbe'ach on Sukos as the Nisuch ha'Mayim. In this respect the Nisuch ha'Mayim was distinguished from the time of the six days of Creation.
3) AGADAH: ATTAINING PROPHECY DURING THE FESTIVAL
QUESTION: TOSFOS cites the Yerushalmi that says that the Simchas Beis ha'Sho'evah is called "Sho'evah" not only because they drew the water from the spring at that time, but because they drew Ru'ach ha'Kodesh upon themselves from the great joy of the Mitzvah. The Yerushalmi mentions Yonah the Prophet as an example of one who attained prophecy as a result of the joy of the Simchas Beis ha'Sho'evah. Yonah was a simple Jew who had never experienced prophecy. As a result of the great joy that he experienced one year when he was Oleh l'Regel, he reached a state of prophecy.
Why was Yonah singled out from all of the Jewish people to receive prophecy as a result of the joy he experienced when he was Oleh l'Regel?
ANSWER: The simple reason why Yonah was singled out for prophecy was because he was especially fervent about the Mitzvah of Aliyah l'Regel. (The Gemara in Eruvin (96a) states that even his wife was Olah l'Regel, even though most women did not go.)
However, perhaps there is a deeper reason why Yonah was granted prophecy when he was Oleh l'Regel.
The Torah records the blessings that Moshe Rabeinu gave to each tribe before his death. The Torah says, "Rejoice, Zevulun, when you go out, and Yissachar in your tents. Nations will gather at the mountain; there they will slaughter offerings of righteousness" (Devarim 33:18-19). Rashi there comments that the words "nations will gather at the mountain" refer either to the Jewish people who will come to the Beis ha'Mikdash (at the mountain, Har ha'Moriyah) when the scholars of Yissachar, who became masters of the intricacies of the lunar calendar as a result of the support provided to them by Zevulun, told them that it was time to go, or they refer to foreign nations who will come to Yerushalayim on their business trips to trade with Zevulun. When they come and see all of the Jewish people serving Hash-m, they will be so overcome with awe that they will convert.
Yonah was from the tribe of Zevulun (Yerushalmi, Sukah 5:1). The tribe of Zevulun had a pivotal role in the pilgrimages to Yerushalayim during the festivals and in their associated festivities ("Rejoice, Zevulun, when you go out..."). The Aliyah l'Regel was "his" special Mitzvah, so to speak. Yonah, therefore, was able to take full advantage of these Mitzvos and attain true spiritual growth through them -- and even achieve prophesy. (This is why even Yonah's wife was Olah l'Regel.)
The prophetic message with which he was entrusted was not directed towards the Jewish people. Rather, his assignment was to go to the nations of the world and teach them to repent and follow the just and moral ways of Hash-m, just as Moshe Rabeinu expressed in his blessing to Zevulun.
The fact that Yonah, and not any other Zevulunite, was chosen for this mission was not by chance. The Gemara in Berachos (7b) teaches that a person's name determines his purpose in life. Yonah's purpose in life can be better understood based on the Midrash which draws a fascinating analogy between the Jewish people and the bird known as the "Yonah" (dove). The Midrash (Shir ha'Shirim Rabah 1:2) says that the Jewish people are comparable to a Yonah in several ways (as in Shir ha'Shirim 1:15):
1. Just as the Yonah's walk is a pleasure to behold, so, too, the Jewish people's walk is a pleasure to behold when they ascend to Yerushalayim for the festivals.
2. Just as the Yonah is modest, so, too, the Jewish people are modest.
3. Just as the Yonah stretches its neck to be slaughtered, so, too, do the Jewish people, as the verse says, "For You [Hash-m] we have been killed throughout the days" (Tehilim 44:23).
4. Just as the Yonah atones for sins (by being offered as a Korban), so, too, the Jewish people atone for the nations. The seventy cows that they offer on Sukos as Korbanos are offered on behalf of the welfare of the seventy nations of the world.
5. Just as the Yonah will never leave its nest even if one takes its young from under it, so, too, the Jewish people never ceased to make their festival trips to Yerushalayim even after the Beis ha'Mikdash was destroyed.
6. Rebbi said, "There is one type of Yonah which, when fed, emits a scent that attracts other doves to its nest. So, too, when the Chachamim teach Torah to the people, they attract many foreigners who hear them and convert."
Accordingly, the prophet Yonah's name alludes to his destiny. The prophet Yonah manifested the characteristics of the bird that bears the same name:
Just as the Yonah bird represents the Jewish people's fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Aliyah l'Regel, so, too, Yonah ben Amitai was outstanding in his observance of the festival pilgrimages (#1 and #5 above).
Yonah's prophecy was given to him on Sukos, when Korbanos are offered to atone for the nations. He was charged with the mission of saving a foreign nation from destruction by urging them to repent for their sins (#4 above).
In his modesty, he attempted to hide his prophetic status and escape from his mission (#2 above).
When confronted by the storm at sea, he willingly offered his life and accepted his death as Divine retribution (#3 above).
Finally, Yonah made such a deep impression on the foreign passengers of the ship that they all chose to become Jews (#6 above). According to the Midrash (Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer, ch. 10), representatives of each of the seventy nations of the world were on board Yonah's ship. They all abandoned their idols and turned to the ways of Hash-m after their experience with Yonah (#4 above). Yonah eventually made his way to Ninveh, where he succeeded in arousing the residents of one of the largest cities in the world, a city full of sinners, to mend their ways and follow the will of their Creator (#4 and #6 above). (M. Kornfeld)