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Only Prayer

Only Prayer

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On Hoshana Rabbah the people of Israel leave aside all their righteousness and all their merits of the entire year; nor do they even turn to the merit of their Fathers. They ask life for themselves and for all of humanity only through the merit of prayer, and they say before G‑d:

"Master of the Universe, we come before You poor and empty­handed. We lack Torah learning, mitzvot, good deeds, and the merit of our fathers. We have only our mouths with which we pray to You alone. Answer us in the merit of this prayer which we offer with broken and contrite hearts."

All that takes place on Hoshana Rabbah alludes to prayer: the many hakafot [encircling of the bimah], the taking of the aravah, the exalted guest of this day - the seventh and last of the ushpizin, King David .

On each of the Festival days, the bimah is encircled once; on Hoshana Rabbah it is encircled seven times. And after the seven hakafot are completed, additional piyutim [liturgical poems and supplications] are recited, all accompanied by the hoshana refrain, like supplicants who have no justifiable claim but plead for help.

The aravah taken on Hoshana Rabbah, after the etrog and lulav are put aside, also alludes to prayer. The aravah is symbolic of man's lips and mouth, and it atones for the sins of speech; since it has neither taste nor fragrance, it corresponds to those among Israel who possess neither Torah, mitzvot, nor good deeds. Israel puts aside the four species which, when bound together, represent the four types of Jews, and declares: "We possess neither the taste of Torah, nor the fragrance of mitzvos - neither the etrog, lulav, nor hadas. All that we are is like this aravah, for all that we possess is a mouth with which we can pray."

And King David, the exalted guest of this seventh day of the Festival, the sweet singer of Israel - is he not the very embodiment of the strength of prayer?! The psalms which he composed have been the wellsprings of prayer for all the world throughout all the generations.

At the conclusion of the Hoshanot, on each day as well as on Hoshana Rabbah, the chazan and congregation responsively recite the following refrain: Ani va-ho hoshiah na. The recital of this verse is a commemoration of the service in the Bet hamikdash where, after the encircling of the altar with the aravah, a tekiah, teruah, and tekiah were sounded on the shofar and this refrain was said.

There is a difference of opinion recorded in the Mishnah as to how this refrain was said in the Bet Hamikdash. One opinion maintains that they would say, Ana Hashem hoshiah na [Please G‑d, bring us salvation]. Another opinion maintains that they said, Ani va-ho hoshiah na [I and He - G‑d - share Israel's troubles, therefore bring us salvation].

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, OBM, was one of Israel's most acclaimed religious authors, whose books on the Jewish way of life and the Chassidic movement have become renowned. Text translated from the Hebrew by Nachman Bulman and Dovid Landseman.
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