The seventh day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot
, 21st day of Tishrei
, is known as Hoshana Rabbah
: הוֹשַׁעְנָא רַבָּא
, "Great Hoshana/Supplication"). This day is marked by a special synagogue service, the Hoshana Rabbah, in which seven circuits are made by the worshippers with their lulav
, while the congregation recites Hoshanot
. It is customary for the scrolls of the Torah to be removed from the ark during this procession. In a few communities a shofar
is sounded after each circuit.
Hoshana Rabbah is known as the day of the final sealing of judgment, which began on Rosh Hashanah
. During the festival of Sukkot
the world is judged for water. The seventh day of the festival is the final sealing and since human life depends on water, Hoshana Rabbah is somewhat similar to Yom Kippur
. Hence there are additional prayers and requests for repentance as on Yom Kippur. In this spirit, the cantor
wears a kittel
as on the High Holidays
. Hoshana Rabbah has an interesting status as sort of a High Holiday
(due to it being the final day for judgment) and in between a Chol HaMoed
and full-fledged Yom Tov
, and in this spirit the cantor, in the Ashkenazic
tradition, recites the service using High Holiday, Festival, Weekday, and Sabbath melodies interchangeably.
Among Sephardi Jews, prayers known as "Selichot" (forgiveness) are recited before the regular morning service (these are the same prayers recited before Rosh Hashanah). In the different prayers of this day, Syrian Jews pray in the same maqam (melody) as on the high holidays. In Amsterdam and in a few places in England, America, and elsewhere, the shofar is also sounded in connection with the processions. The latter practice reflects the idea that Hoshana Rabbah is the end of the High Holy Day season, when the world is judged for the coming year.
Evening prior to Hoshana Rabbah
It is customary to read the whole of Tehillim
(Psalms) on Hoshana Rabbah eve. There is also a custom to read the book of Deuteronomy
on the night of Hoshana Rabbah.
Rituals and customs
The reasons for many of the customs of the day are rooted in Kabbalah
The modern day observance of the rituals of Hoshana Rabbah are reminiscent of the practices that existed in the times of the Holy Temple
. During Sukkot, the four species
are taken in a circuit around (inscribing the perimeter, not circumscribing the actual building) the synagogue once daily. On Hoshana Rabbah, there are seven circuits.
Making a circuit around the reading desk on Sukkot while each person holds the Four species in his hands has its origin in the Temple service, as recorded in the Mishnah: "It was customary to make one procession around the altar on each day of Sukkot, and seven on the seventh day" [Sukkah 4:5]. The priests carried the palm branches or willows in their hands. The entire ceremony is to demonstrate rejoicing and gratitude for a blessed and fruitful year. Moreover, it serves to tear down the iron wall that separates us from our Father in Heaven, as the wall of Jericho was encompassed "and the wall fell down flat" (Joshua 6). Furthermore, the seven circuits correspond to the seven words in the verse Erhatz benikayon kappay, va'asovevah et mizbahakha Hashem - "I wash my hands in purity and circle around Your altar, O Lord" (Psalms 26:6).
Each "hoshana" is done in honor of a patriach.
- Moses (the most important Hebrew prophet)
- Aaron (Moses's brother, the first Kohen Gadol, or High Priest)
- Joseph (the three Patriarchs and Jacob's most famous son)
- David (the most important king of Israel)
Tikkun Hoshana Rabbah
speaks of the custom of reading the Torah on the night of Hoshana Rabbah, out of which has grown the custom of reading Deuteronomy, Psalms, and passages from the Zohar
; reciting Kabbalistic
prayers. In Orthodox Jewish circles, some men will stay up all night learning Torah.
Sephardim have a tradition of staying up the entire night on the eve of this day. Throughout the night in the synagogues, Torah learning takes place as well as praying the Selichot prayers. The entire book of Deuteronomy is read and reviewed. The reason for this is because this book is considered by some as a "review" of the entire Torah, but also because in the Torah portion cycle, the book of Deuteronomy is about to be completed the following days on Simchat Torah.
In Hasidic communities which follow the customs of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, there is a public reading of the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) from a Sefer Torah. This may be followed by a tish in honor of the festival.
The entire book of Psalms is read, with Kabbalistic prayers being recited after each of the five sections.
Five willow branches
At the conclusion of a number of Piyyutim
(liturgical poems), five willow
branches are beaten on the ground or other surface to symbolize the elimination of sin. This is also symbolic as a prayer for rain
and success in agriculture. According to the Kabbalah
, beating the ground with the five willow branches is done to "Sweeten the Five Severities". There is no blessing said for this ritual, but the Aramaic
expression "chabit, chabit velah barich
" is chanted. This happens to be the oldest known Jewish custom (or Minhag
) in Orthodox Judaism.
Prayers for Messiah
The hoshanot are accompanied by a series of liturgical verses climaxing with, "Kol mevasser, mevasser ve-omer
" (The voice of the Herald [Elijah
]heralds and says)—expressing hope for the speedy coming of the Messiah.