In memory of our beloved grandmother, Dora Levine דבורה בת יעקב ע"ה, whose Yartzheit we commemorate this week.
The Gemara in Masekhet Sukka (49a) suggests an unusual reading of the first word of the Torah – “bereishit” – suggesting that it be read as, “bara sheet,” alluding to the creation of the shittin, the piping system beneath the Beit Ha-mikdash. These pipes carried the water poured over the altar during Sukkot deep beneath the ground, and the Gemara asserts that they were brought into existence and put into place already at the time of the world’s creation. As such, they are mentioned by way of an allusion in the very first word of the Torah.
How might we understand the notion of the shittin being constructed at the time of creation?
Rav Chaim Kanoler, in his Peri Chayim, associates the Gemara’s comment with the “history” of the mitzva of the water libations, as told by the Midrash (cited by Rashi to Vayikra 2:13). The Midrash relates that after God separated between the “upper waters” and the “lower waters” on the second day of creation (Bereishit 1:6-7), the lower waters – meaning, the waters here in our world – bitterly protested. They desired closeness with God, and were resentful over their banishment from God’s presence. God consoled the waters through the mitzva of nisukh ha-mayim – the water libation on Sukkot – through which they were poured on the altar and thus reunited, as it were, with the Almighty.
In light of this background, we might say that the shittin – the pipes through which the water of nisukh ha-mayim flowed – represent the water’s return to their origin, to their primordial relationship with God. Symbolically, these pipes are the mechanism through which the “lower waters” are able to regain the closeness with God that they had lost.
On this basis, Rav Kanoler suggests, we might explain the notion that these pipes were put in place at the time of the world’s creation. Chazal are teaching us that the possibility of return and restoration was implanted within the very fabric of the world. Almost invariably, we will experience periods of distance and alienation, when we feel a degree of separation and disconnect from God. During such periods, we are to remember the story of the “lower waters,” whose return route to the heavens was arranged at the outset of the world’s creation. A “built-in” feature of the world is the shittin, the opportunity to return and to rebuild our connection with God. This is why Chazal draw our attention to the shittin already when we read the very first word of the Torah – to teach us that the path to regaining our sense of closeness with the Almighty has already been paved, and we need simply to make the decision, and invest the effort, to take it.