Wine and Water by Rabbi Benny Berlin

After checking the weather, I am delighted to see it won’t rain on the first night of Sukkos. The
Mishna in Masekhet Sukka (28b) addresses the situation of rainfall on Sukkos, establishing that once
one’s food begins to become ruined by the rain, one may leave the sukka and enter the house. The
Mishna then adds that such a situation is comparable to one of “a servant who comes to pour a cup for his
master (Limzog Kos Leraboe) and he pours a jug on his face.”

It seems clear that Chazal refer here to God’s displeasure with our service, as He brings the rain
to prevent us from fulfilling the mitzva of sukka, but the precise scenario described, and the particular
meaning of this analogy, require explanation. I learned a beautiful insight from Rabbi David Silverberg
quoting the Vilna Gaon.

The Vilna Gaon offered an especially insightful interpretation of the Mishna, explaining that the
master in the analogy does not pour on the servant the cup that he was given to drink. The Mishna speaks
of a servant coming “li-mzog,” which is often used by Chazal in reference to diluting wine. “To mix the
wine.”

The wine is raw and unprocessed, and the servant brings a jug of water to pour into the wine so
the master could drink it. The master then throws the water onto the servant, rejecting his gesture, and
leaving the wine unprocessed and hence undrinkable. The Vilna Gaon explained that this analogy refers
to the necessary combination between the very different experiences of the Yamim Noraim and Sukkos
The wine in this story represents the awe and spiritual intensity of the first ten days of Tishrei, the period
of judgment and introspection. This “wine” cannot be properly absorbed and integrated into our beings
without being “diluted” by the addition of the joy and festivity of Sukkos The Tishrei experience is
meaningful and impactful only if we combine the “wine” and the “water” – the intensity of the Yamim
Noraim with the festive celebration of Sukkos. Without the joy of Sukkos, the Yamim Noraim experience
cannot have an enduring impact upon us. We would simply resume our ordinary routine and leave the
special, intense emotions of the High Holidays behind, as we would be unable to bring them with us into
our day-to-day life. It is the joy of Sukkos which “dilutes” the fear of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
so that the experience can be properly integrated into our everyday lives throughout the coming year.

This, the Vilna Gaon explains, is the Mishna’s intent in presenting this analogy. When God, for
reasons we cannot know, brings rain on Sukkos, thereby preventing us from fulfilling the mitzva of sukka,
we lose the “water” that we need to “dilute” the Yamim Noraim experience. We then run the risk of
losing the long-term effect of that experience upon our lives.

According to the Vilna Gaon, then, this Mishna teaches us the importance of the delicate
balance between fear and joy. “Limzog Kos Leraboe,” in order to serve G-d we need to have a mixture of
both wine and water, intensive spiritual focus and genuine happiness and enjoyment. This combination
allows us to live rich, meaningful lives, in which we work to serve our Creator with both intensity and
joy, fulfilling our obligations with earnestness and intensity while also enjoying true contentment and
satisfaction.