Golden Vats for the Arava
This picture shows a Sabbath scene of men in the Azara (Temple courtyard) choosing the aravot (willow branches), stored from the previous day in golden vats of water to keep them fresh. Newly cut branches were brought every day of Sukkot from Motza, a town to the west of Jerusalem, – except on the Sabbath. Early on Sabbath morning, the congregation would come to the Temple for the morning Tamid sacrifice, and would also choose willows with which to encircle the altar.
Beating the Willow Branches
We see here the Pilgrims beating the willow branches on the floor of the Azara. This custom dates back to the times of the Prophets. The Mishna states that it was done “on the ground aside the altar.” Maimonides (Lulav 7:22) describes the contemporary custom as “in memory of the Temple,” writing, “One would take a willow branch, or several of them – not the one in his lulav – and beat it on the ground two or three times… This was a custom of the Prophets.”
The Willow Branch from Motza
The Mishna (Sukkah 4:5) describes how willow branches were brought to the Holy Temple, each day of Sukkot, for the fulfillment of the Arava commandment. The painting shows residents of Motza, a village near Jerusalem, and employees of the Beit Din cutting willow branches and loading them onto wagons bound for the Temple. (In the background can be seen the village of Motza, and Jerusalem to the west behind it.) As the Mishna states: “There was a place in the valley below Jerusalem, called Motza. The Beit Din would send people there to cut the long willow branches, known as murbiyot” – which were used to adorn the altar. A large quantity of branches was needed to supply the needs of the many visitors to the Holy Temple.
Filling the Jug from the Siloam Pool
Seen here are the people of Israel as they participated in the Beit HaShoeva celebrations during the night. At dawn, all those in attendance would descend, with torches in hand, to draw water from the Shiloach (Siloam Pool). The Mishna (Sukkah 5:4) indicates that three terua blasts were sounded on this occasion and the congregants would walk until the eastern exit of the Temple. When they reached that spot, they would turn and face west, and they would say, “Our ancestors who were in the place [during the First Temple period and did not conduct themselves properly] stood with their backs toward the Azara, but our eyes are to G-d.” At the forefront of the picture the kohen is drawing the water using a golden jug, which he gives to a different kohen who will bring the spring water into the Azara and use it for the water libation on the altar.
A Golden Jug Filled from the Siloam Pool
This picture depicts the people of Jerusalem and the pilgrims as they leave the Temple on their way to the Siloam Pool to perform the mitzva of nisukh hamayim (the water libation).
At the end of the Beit HaShoeva celebrations which took place during the night in the Temple courtyards, the participants would walk in a large crowd through lower Jerusalem, known as Ir David, to the Siloam Pool. When they arrived, they drew the water to be poured on the altar. That was done at dawn, with singing and great joy, as it says “You shall draw water in joy from the springs of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). From the Mishna (Sukkah 5:5) it seems that trumpet blasts accompanied three different drawings of water. This is also the view of Maimonides (Kelei HaMikdash 7:6).
Utensils for Pouring Water on Sukkot
The water (approximately a liter) that is drawn from the Siloam Pool is poured onto the altar from a special silver jug (seen at right). The chain attached to it facilitates its filling of water from the spring. Another larger utensil (at left) is used to pour wine on the altar for animal offerings throughout the year.
Utensils for Pouring Wine During the Tamid Offering
Two silver bowls were placed on top of the altar, into which were poured the water (on Sukkot) and wine. At right is a wide bowl for the wine, and the narrower bowl at left is for the water.
The mitzvot of pouring the water and the wine on the altar were performed simultaneously, and the kohanim ensured that both liquids would completely drain out of their respective bowls at the same time. This was done, the Mishna tells us (Sukkah 4:9), by virtue of a wider spout in the wine bowl – for wine is denser than water. Both liquids would stream down from the top of the altar, through the special drain-holes, to the shittin, i.e., an underground reservoir.
At the Gate of the Water
The picture shows a view of the southern gates of the Temple Mount wall, including the Gate of the Water at right. This was the gate through which the golden pitcher of Siloam Pool water was brought on Sukkot for pouring on the altar. As explained in the Mishna (Middot 2:6), this gate was the easternmost of the southern Azara gates, and the closest to the altar ramp. It was called the Gate of the Water because through it was brought the pitcher of water for libation on Sukkot; R. Eliezer ben Yaakov says it was because there the water welled up and, in the future, will emerge there from under the Temple.
In the foreground a kohen is seen holding the golden pitcher brought amidst joy and singing from the Siloam. The Mishna (Sukkah 4:6) states: “When they reached the Gate of the Water, they would blow Tekia, Terua, Tekia.” The commentaries explain that these blasts of joy were for in fulfillment of the verse, “You shall draw water in joy from the springs of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3).