The seventh day of Sukkot is called "Hoshana Rabbah" and is considered the final day of the divine "judgment" in which the fate of the new year is determined. The Psalm L'David Hashem Ori, which has been added to our daily prayer since the 1st of Elul, is recited for the last time today. Other Hoshanah Rabbah observances include:
It is customary to remain awake on the night preceding Hoshanah Rabbah and study Torah. We recite the entire Book of Deuteronomy and the Book of Psalms. In some congregations it is a custom for the Gabbai (synagogue manager) to distribute apples (signifying a "sweet year") to the congregants.
In addition to the Four Kinds taken every day of Sukkot, it is a "Rabbinical Mitzvah", dating back to the times of the Prophets, to take an additional aravah, or willow, on the 7th day of Sukkot. In the Holy Temple, large, 18-foot willow branches were set around the altar. Today, when we take the Four Kinds and carry them around the reading table in the synagogue during the "Hoshaanot" prayers, we make seven circuits around the table (instead of the daily one), and recited a lengthier prayer. At the conclusion of the Hoshaanot we strike the ground five times with a bundle of five willows, symbolizing the "tempering of the five measures of harshness."
Link:The Willow (on the deeper significance of the mitzvah of aravah).
A festive meal is eaten in the Sukkah. We dip the bread in honey
(as we did in each festive meal since Rosh Hashanah) for the last time. Today is also the last occasion on which we recite the special blessing for eating in the sukkah, since the biblical commandment to dwell in
the sukkah is only for seven days (though it is the practice of many communities -- and such is the Chabad custom -- that, outside of the Land of Israel, we eat in the sukkah also on the 8th day, Shemini Atzeret).
When Shabbat occurs immediately following a festival -- as it does this year -- an "eruv tavshilin" (i.e., food for at least one "meal" that is set aside in advance for Shabbat) must be prepared prior to the festival, so that it should be permitted to prepare food for Shabbat during the festival.
The festival of Sukkot, commemorating G-d's
enveloping protection of the Children of Israel during their 40-year journey
through the desert (1313-1273 BCE), is celebrated for seven days, beginning
from the eve of Tishrei 15. During this time, we are commanded to
"dwell" in a sukkah -- a hut of temporary construction, with a roof
covering of raw, unfinished vegetable matter (branches, reeds, bamboo, etc.) --
signifying the temporality and fragily of human habitation and man-made shelter and our utter dependence upon G-d's protection and providence. "How [does one
fulfill] the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah? One should eat, drink, and live
in the sukkah, both day and night, as one lives in one's house on the other
days of the year: for seven days a person should make his home his temporary
dwelling, and his sukkah his permanent dwelling" (Code of Jewish Law, Orach
At least one k'zayit (approx. 1 oz.) of bread should be eaten in the
sukkah on the first evening of the festival, between nightfall and midnight. A special blessing, Leishiv BaSukkah, is recited. For the rest of the festival, all meals must be eaten in the sukkah (see the Code of Jewish Law or consult a Halachic authority as to what constitutes a
"meal"). Chabad custom is to refrain from eating or drinking anything outside
of the sukkah, even a glass of water.
"And you shall take for yourself on the first day," instructs the Torah in Leviticus "the splendid fruit of a tree, fronds of dates, the branch of the thick-leafed tree and aravot of the river." Torah SheBaal Peh (the oral tradition given to Moses at Sinai and handed through the generations, and later documented in the Mishnah and Talmud) identifies the four kinds as the etrog (citron), lulav (unopened palm branch), hadass (myrtle twig, of which three are taken) and aravah (willow, two twigs). The palm branch, three myrtle twigs and two willow twigs are bound together (with rings made from palm leaves).
Each day of Sukkot -- except Shabbat -- we take the lulav in hand, recite a blessing over it, take hold of the etrog, hold the "Four Kinds" together, and move them back and forth in all directions (right, left, forward, up, down and back). An additional blessing, shehecheyanu, is recited the first time that the Four Kinds are taken during the festival. We also hold the Four Kinds during the Hallel prayer (moving them as above in specified places in the text) and the Hoshaanot prayers (during which we march around the reading table in the synagogue) which are included in the daily service each day of Sukkot.
When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, one of the special Sukkot observances was to pour water on the Altar. The drawing of water for this purpose was preceded by all-night celebrations in the Temple courtyard; on the 15 steps leading to the azarah (inner courtyard) stood Levites while playing a variety of musical instruments, sages danced and juggled burning torches, and huge oil-burning lamps illuminated the entire city. The singing and dancing went on until daybreak, when a procession would make its way to the Shiloach Spring which flowed in a valley below the Temple to "draw water with joy." "One who did not see the joy of the water-drawing celebrations," declared the sages of the Talmud, "has not seen joy in his life."
While water was poured each day of the fetival, the special celebrations were held
only on Chol Hamoed since many of the elements of the celebration (e.g., the playing of musical instruments) are forbidden on Yom Tov.
Today, we commemorate these joyous celebrations by holding Simchat Beit HaShoeivah ("joy of the water drawing") events in the streets, with music and dancing. The Lubavitcher Rebbe initiated the custom of holding such celebrations on Shabbat and Yom Tov as well -- without musical instruments of course. The fact that we cannot celebrate as we did in the Temple, said the Rebbe, means that we are free to celebrate the joy of Sukkot with singing and dancing every day of the festival.
The seven days of the festival of Sukkot
consist of two days of "Yom Tov", followed by five days of "Chol Hamoed"
("weekdays of the festival"; also called "the intermediate days"). In the Land of Israel,
there is only one day of Yom Tov, followed by six days of Chol Hamoed.
On Yom Tov all creative work is forbidden as on Shabbat, except for the tasks
involved in food preparation (e.g., lighting a fire from a pre-existing flame,
cooking, carrying "from domain to domain"); on Chol Hamoed, work whose avoidance would result
in "significant loss" is permitted. Otherwise, all the mitzvot and customs of Sukkot
apply: eating in the sukkah, taking the "four kinds", etc. The "Yaale V'yavo" prayer
is included in all prayers and Grace After Meals. Hallel, Hoshaanot and Musaf are recited following the Shacharit (morning) prayers.
It is the Chabad custom not to put on tefillin during Chol Hamoed, as on Shabbat and the festivals.
Click here for a more detailed treatment of the laws of Chol Hamoed.