"To G-d We Bow Down”
This picture depicts the final minutes of the nightly Beit HaShoeva celebration, as the sun rises in the east. The Talmud describes the scene: “The participants would reach the gate leading to the east, to the Women’s Courtyard, and would then turn westward to the Sanctuary and would say: ‘Our fathers who were here in this place [during the First Temple period]… would bow to the sun – but we bow to G-d’” (Sukkah 53b).
In the painting some of the participants are facing the Sanctuary and the altar. The kohen carrying the jug of water from the Siloam for the libation stands on the steps of the Gate of Nicanor, also facing west. Some people prostrate themselves towards the Holy of Holies (foreground), according to the Rabbinic principle: “The Divine Presence is in the west” (Bava Batra 25a; and Guide to the Perplexed 3:45).
Announcing the Hak’hel
On the day of Hak’hel, kohanim would blow trumpets throughout Jerusalem in order to announce the event and gather everyone to the Temple for the royal Torah reading in the Women’s Courtyard. The Tosefta says if people saw a kohen without a trumpet to blow that day, they would think he was not a kohen!
The painting shows the streets of Jerusalem on the day of Hak’hel. Kohanim stand on steps, at courtyard gates, and on street corners, sounding their trumpets and announcing the time of Hak’hel. The residents and pilgrims would stop their work and begin streaming to the Temple for the special event occurring only once in seven years.
The Hak’hel Ceremony
This classic illustration shows the throngs of pilgrims and Jerusalemites gathered in the Women’s Courtyard for the Hak’hel Event. The king stands on the large wooden platform and reads the Torah aloud. On his right is the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), wearing the Choshen Mishpat breastplate, holding the Torah scroll for the king to read. The Mishna teaches (Sota 7:8): “The Temple synagogue attendant takes a Torah scroll and hands it to the president of the assembly who hands it to the Kohen Gadol’s deputy, who passes it to the Kohen Gadol, who gives it to the king… The king may read from a sitting position, but King Agrippas read it while standing and the Sages praised him.”
Men stood in the Azara and women stood above in balconies specially prepared for them. Young children stood next to their parents; older ones can be seen in the picture climbing the ladders leading up to the golden lamps that illuminated the area of the Beit HaShoeva celebrations.
The Women’s Courtyard During Hak’hel
Seen here is the dramatic, Hak’hel ceremony, as seen by the women standing above. The pilgrims are congregated below in the Ezrat Nashim (Women's Court) as they hear the King of Israel read aloud from the Torah. The women stand above in the special balcony; they, too, are obligated to congregate in the Holy Temple for this special event.
The Last Day of the Four Species
On the last day of Sukkot, after the final Hakafot around the altar were completed, the children would grab the elders’ lulav branches and eat their etrogim – another manifestation of holiday joy. The adults, in the spirit of the day, would be forbearing and allow them to eat the etrogim; so explains the Rambam, as depicted in the painting here. Others say that it was the adults who would snatch the lulavim from the young ones.
The Musaf Offering of Shemini Atzeret
Throughout the seven days of Sukkot, the number of bulls offered in the Musaf offering was between 7 and 13. The eighth day, however, was the separate holiday of Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day Assembly), on which only one bull was offered for the Musaf offering. This was in addition to a goat offered to atone for the sins of the people and a ram and seven lambs as burnt-offerings – as seen in the painting.
The Talmud (Sukkah 55b) states that the Shemini Atzeret offering is termed a “small feast,” compared with the offerings of Sukkot. It is as if G-d is telling His beloved Israel, “Let us now celebrate. Prepare for Me a ‘small feast’ just for us so that I can enjoy you.”
Watching the Smoke Rise at the end of Shemini Atzeret
This painting depicts that which is written in the Talmud (Yoma 21b) regarding the final Shemini Atzeret offering: “At the conclusion of the final day of Sukkot (Shemini Atzeret), everyone would look towards the smoke emanating from the sacrifices burning on the altar. If the smoke wafted northward, the poor (on the right) would be happy, while the land-owners (on the left) would be sad – because it meant that the rains of the coming year would be plentiful and the fruits would rot. But if the smoke blew to the south, the farmers would rejoice, while the poor would be saddened, because it meant that rain would be sparse and the fruits would be better preserved. If the smoke went eastward, everyone would be happy, while if to the west, all would be sad.”