The Water Drawing Festival

Youth The Water Drawing Festival

Whoever has not seen the joy of the Water Drawing Celebrations [in the Holy Temple on the festival of Sukkot], has not seen joy in his lifetime….

They had golden candelabra there, each with four golden bowls at their top and four ladders leading up to them. Four youths from the young kohanim [would climb each ladder] holding jugs with 120 logim of oil to pour into each of the bowls…. There was not a single courtyard in Jerusalem that was not illuminated by the light of the Water Drawing Celebrations.

Talmud, Sukkah 51a

Kohanim (the priests who served in the Holy Temple) had to be strong—their service in the Temple required carrying the thigh of a full-grown ox up the ramp leading to the top of the altar. But the Talmud does a bit of arithmetic and concludes that the feat performed by the young kohanim who filled the lamps at the Water Drawing Celebrations was greater yet: the ramp leading to the altar rose to a height of 9 cubits (13.5 feet) over a space of 32 cubits (48 feet)—a walk of slightly less then feet walk up a 15-degree incline. The ladders, which the young kohanim ascended each carrying a jug with 30 lugim (about 3 gallons) of oil, were 50 cubits (75 feet) tall, and it was a straight vertical climb all the way up.[1]

We all yearn for our youth, recalling how easily we then took on tasks which seem so difficult to us today. The difference is not only in the greater weight of the burden that the young can carry, but, most significantly, in the manner in which they take on the challenges of life.

Youth makes no such demands. It sets its sights on a goal and climbs straight up.

The mature person approaches things in a step-by-step manner. This is where I am today, and this is where I want to get to. To get there, I first must do this, then this, and then this. That will bring me that much closer to my goal. Then I’ll do this, and this, and this…. It’ll take this much time, this many dollars, this much motivation, these and these circumstances, and I’ll need this from that person and that from the other fellow, to get there.

In other words, the climb of life is an “incline.” Some make this a very gradual incline, while others challenge themselves to a steeper ascent; the bottom line, however, is that so much “space” is required to raise oneself to such-and-such a height.

Youth makes no such demands. It sets its sights on a goal and climbs straight up.

Youth does not disappear with the passage of years—it only recedes to progressively deeper and more elusive places within us. If we learn to stimulate the youthfulness within ourselves, we can illuminate all the courtyards of Jerusalem with the light we carry up the ladder of life.

Based on an address by the Rebbe, Sukkot 5718 (1957)[2]


[1]. Talmud, Sukkah 52b.

[2]. Likkutei Sichot, vol. IV, pp. 1365-1367.



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