Rabbi Yoni Kirsch
Rabbi Yoni KirschYair Yulis

There is a special Tefillah we recite at the last moments of Sukkot, just before exiting our Sukka on the last day of Sukkot: "May we sit in a Sukka of the skin of the Great Whale" (The Rema Siman 667), It is also mentioned in the Benching (grace after meal) "Harachaman".

What exactly is this Whale? And why do we want to sit in its Sukka? What does this represent?

We all know the story of Pinocchio swallowed up by the whale…Obviously, this is a takeoff of the story of Yonah the prophet. The Midrash actually describes how Yonah meets the great whale down under the sea (see Pirkei D'rabbi Eliezer 10). Of course, this topic is very deep and also goes into Kabbalah. In this article we will try to understand some of these terms that we can grasp.

The Whale and 'Nissuch Hamayim' – From The first days of creation

The creation of this whale goes back to the first days of creation. On the fifth day of creation the great fish were created (Bereshit,1:21):

" וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הַתַּנִּינִם הַגְּדֹלִים"

("God created the great sea monsters")

Rashi brings the Midrash:

" ובדברי אגדה הוא לויתן ובן זוגו שבראם זכר ונקבה והרג את הנקבה ומלחה לצדיקים לעתיד לבא, שאם יפרו וירבו לא יתקיים העולם בפניהם"

("and according to the statement of the Agada (Bava Batra 74b) it means here the Leviathan and its consort which He created male and female. He, however, killed the female and preserved it in salt for the benefit of the righteous in the time to come, for had they been permitted to be fruitful and to multiply the world could not have endured because of them.")

This is from Baba Batra (74:b):

"אף לויתן נחש בריח ולויתן נחש עקלתון - זכר ונקבה בראם, ואלמלי נזקקין זה לזה - מחריבין כל העולם כולו, מה עשה הקב"ה? סירס את הזכר, והרג הנקבה ומלחה לצדיקים לעתיד לבא, שנאמר: והרג את התנין אשר בים... "

Interestingly, another Mitzvah of Sukkot also goes back to those first days of creation. This is with the Mitzvah of 'Nissuch Hamayim' (ceremony of “the libation of water). All year round, in addition to the sacrifices in the Mikdash we pour wine into the Mizbeach (altar). On Sukkot we also pour water into the Mizbeach, this is called 'Nissuch Hamayim'. This also goes back to the second day of creation. The Torah describes (Bereshit 1:7) how the 'upper water' was separated from the 'water beneath':

"וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָרָקִיעַ וַיַּבְדֵּל בֵּין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ וַיְהִי כֵן"

("God made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse. And it was so.")

Rashi brings (Vayikra 2:13) that the lower water didn't want to be discriminated, and therefore was promised to be compensated every Sukkot while bringing water from the earth up to the Mizbeach during Nissuch Hamyim:

"שהברית כרותה למלח מששת ימי בראשית, שהובטחו המים התחתונים ליקרב במזבח במלח, וניסוך המים בחג"

("because a covenant was established with the salt as far back as the six days of Creation when the lower waters (those of the oceans) received an assurance that they would be offered on the altar in the form of salt and also as water in the ceremony of “the libation of water” on the Feast of Tabernacles").‎

So, we see that this act is a Mitzvah all the way back from 'Briyat Haolam', this must be a really important procedure. The Gmara describes (Sukka 49:a) how this water sinks down all the way the the 'Tehom' (the deep of the earth) also that was created from the six days of creation :

אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן: שיתין מששת ימי בראשית נבראו, ... תנא דבי רבי ישמעאל: בראשית, אל תיקרי בראשית אלא ברא שית.

Both the water of 'Nissuch Hamayim' (coming from the spring of the Shiloach) and the great whale represent this world. The water split into two on day two of creation, upper above and down below, represents the 'built-in' gap between the spiritual world and the natural physical world, this gap is very hard to combine and reunite. That's why the lower water needed to be compensated, because nobody wants to be left down below meaningless and disconnected from Hashem. That's when Hashem promises the lower water that he'll be used during Nissuch Hamayim.

The whale too, is the largest animal that exists. The whale lives down below (see Tehillim 148:7), far away from and hidden from everything we can imagine. A person living on earth rarely would even see this great whale since the water of the ocean is covering it. And this is when Sukkot comes and tells us to expose the great power and forces that exist deep inside us, in this natural world. In other words, perhaps we can describe it as the water of the 'Nissuch Hamayim' poured down the Mizbeach, sinking all the way down to the 'Tehom' (the deep) and awakening the great whale.

Simchat Torah and the Secrets of the Torah

A fascinating explanation to the feast of the great whale and its Sukka, is brought by the Gaon Vilna (Even Shlema 11,11). He explains that the Whale represents the secrets of the Torah. Rav Eliyahu Desler (Michtav Me'eliyahu, part 5, page 202) explains according to this the meaning of the Midrash (Baba Batra 74:b) that Hashem Slaughtered the female whale and castrated the male:

ובספר שיח יצחק לרי"א חבר (דרוש פרשת פרה) כתב: "לויתן נחש בריח...לויתן נחש עקלתון (ישעיה כז,א) הם זכר ונקבה, תורה ומצוות". ומה שאז"ל "ואלמלי נזקקין זה לזה מחריבין כל העולם כולו" (ב"ב עד:), פירוש: אילמלי נתגלו סתרי תורה נודעו טעמי המצוות לא היו עוד חוקים, ובזה בטל גדר קבלת עול. גם בחירה היתה בטלה, כמו שהיא אצל מלאכים (וכמו שלעתיד לבוא יתבטל היצר בגילוי סתרי תורה). וממילא אם היו מתגלים סתרי תורה וטעמי המצוות בעולם הזה היו מטשטשים הבנין הרוחני של העולם. על כן "הרג הנקבה" פירוש: העלים טעמי החוקים לגמרי שלא לבטל גדר קבלת עול. ו"סירס את הזכר"- היינו שסתרי תורה מתגלים מעט מאד, כדי שלא תתבטל הבחירה.

(The male and female whale are referring to the Torah and Mitzvot as Hashem hid the reasons and depth of the Torah and Mitzvot and revealed them little by little)

According to this, our great Teffilah at the end of Sukkot is to discover the depth of this world down beneath and reveal all the forces that exist in us. This leads us to the understanding of the secrets of the Torah and then we can rejoice on Simchat Torah while dancing with the Sefer Torah.