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Printable Sukkot Guide - 2014

Printable Sukkot Guide - 2014

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Out of respect for the sanctity of the holiday, please print out this holiday guide before the onset of the holiday (sundown Wednesday, October 8), and keep handy throughout the holiday for reference purposes.


How is Sukkot Observed?


How is Sukkot Observed?

For forty years, as our ancestors traversed the Sinai Desert prior to their entry into the Holy Land, miraculous "clouds of glory" surrounded and hovered over them, shielding them from the dangers and discomforts of the desert. Ever since, we remember G‑d's kindness and reaffirm our trust in His providence by dwelling in a sukkah – a hut of temporary construction with a roof-covering of branches – for the duration of the autumn Sukkot festival. For seven days and nights, we eat all our meals in the sukkah – reciting a special blessing – and otherwise regard it as our home. Weather permitting, some even sleep there.

We reaffirm our trust in His providence by dwelling in a sukkahAnother mitzvah that is unique to Sukkot is the taking of the Four Kinds: an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm frond), at least three hadassim (myrtle branches) and two aravot (willow branches). The Midrash tells us that the Four Kinds represent the various types and personalities that comprise the community of Israel, whose intrinsic unity we emphasize on Sukkot.

On each day of the festival (except Shabbat), during the daytime hours, we take the Four Kinds, recite a blessing over them, bring them together in our hands and wave them in all six directions: right, left, forward, up, down and to the rear. (The Four Kinds are also an integral part of the holiday's daily morning service.)

Sukkot is also called The Time of Our Joy; indeed, a special joy pervades the festival. Nightly Water-Drawing Celebrations, reminiscent of the evening-to-dawn festivities held in the Holy Temple in preparation for the drawing of water for use in the festival service, fill the synagogues and streets with song, music, and dance until the wee hours of the morning.

Sukkot runs from the fifteenth through the twenty-first of Tishrei. The first two days of this festival (in Israel only the first day) are a major holiday, when most forms of work are prohibited. On the preceding nights, women and girls light candles, reciting the appropriate blessings, and we enjoy nightly and daily festive meals, accompanied by the Kiddush.

Celebrations fill the streets with song and dance until the wee hours of the morningThe remaining days of the festival are Chol Hamoed ("intermediate days"), when most forms of work are permitted. We try to avoid going to work, writing, and certain other activities – many families use this time to enjoy fun family outings.

Every day of Sukkot, including Chol Hamoed, we recite the complete Hallel, Hoshanot, and Musaf, and the Torah is read during the morning service.

The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshanah Rabbah ("Great Salvation"). According to tradition, the verdict for the new year – which is written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur – is not handed down by the Heavenly Court until Hoshanah Rabbah. On this day we encircle the bimah (synagogue reading table) seven times while holding the Four Kinds and offering special prayers for prosperity during the upcoming year. During the course of the morning prayers it is also traditional to take a bundle of five willow branches and beat them against the ground five times.

Sukkot is immediately followed by the independent holiday of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

The Sukkah: The Holiday Hut

What: A sukkah is a hut built to provide shade. That's why it must sit beneath the open sky—not under a patio deck or even the branches of a tree. The walls can be made of any material, as long as they are secure and don't flap about in the wind. The roof, however, (we call it s'chach), must be of unprocessed materials which have grown from the ground. Bamboo poles, thin wooden slats, and evergreen branches are popular choices. Just make sure to use enough s'chach so that the inside of your sukkah will have more shade than sunlight. Those living in the fast lane can buy a prefab sukkah and bamboo mats. Inquire at your local Judaica store, or click here.

For eight days, make the sukkah your official homeHow: For eight days, make the sukkah your official home. Don't panic: As long as you eat your meals there, you're okay. But try to include anything else that you would normally do in the house—like reading a book or talking with a friend. We sit in the sukkah from sundown on the 14th of Tishrei through nightfall of the 22nd of Tishrei.

It is a mitzvah to eat all meals in the sukkah (a "meal" is defined as more than two ounces of grains -- e.g. bread, cake, pasta). Some people have the custom of eating snacks in the sukkah as well. Before eating in the sukkah, the following blessing is recited:

Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to dwell in the sukkah.

This blessing is made when your meal or snack includes a grain-based food.

Raining? If it's really uncomfortable, there is no duty to sit there. Come back when the weather improves. Nevertheless, many chassidim will eat in the sukkah no matter the weather. It's too great and rare a mitzvah to squander...

It is particularly important to eat at least one k'zayit (approx. 1 oz.) of bread or challah on the first evening of the festival in the sukkah, between nightfall and midnight.

Who: This beautiful mitzvah is traditionally fulfilled by the whole family, though, as with all time-related mitzvot, the obligation to eat in the sukkah applies to men over the age of 13.

Why: The sukkah commemorates the Clouds of Glory which surrounded and protected our ancestors during the forty-year desert sojourn which followed the Egyptian Exodus. Our willingness to leave the security of our homes and spend eight days in a flimsy outdoor hut demonstrates our faith in G‑d and His benevolence.

The Four Kinds: The Lulav and Etrog

Every day of Sukkot (except Shabbat) we take the arba minim, a.k.a. “Four Kinds.” Sukkot is a seven-day holiday starting on 15 Tishrei and concluding on 21 Tishrei.

What are the four kinds? A palm branch (lulav), two willows (aravot), a minimum of three myrtles (hadassim) and one citron (etrog). The first three kinds are neatly bundled together—your arba minim vendor can assemble it for you. Click here for a guide to binding the lulav.

Not all sets of arba minim on the market are kosher. Check with your rabbi. And treat your set with TLC—they’re fragile goods!

Arba minim is a man’s obligation. For women, it’s optional but encouraged. Best place for doing this mitzvah is the sukkah, the outdoor holiday booth.

Hold the lulav in your right hand (unless you’re a lefty), with its spine facing you. Face east and say:

Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us regarding taking the lulav.

Treat your set with TLC—they’re fragile goods! Pick up the etrog in your left hand.

[On the first day of Sukkot (or the first time on Sukkot you get to do this), at this point say:

Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.]

Bring the lulav and etrog together—you’ve done the mitzvah!

Nevertheless, the custom is to wave the arba minim in all six directions—south, north, east, up, down and west. Click here for an illustrated guide to shaking the Four Kinds.

Take along your arba minim to the synagogue for the morning services. We wave them again during the Hallel prayer, and then parade them around the synagogue during the Hosha’anot ceremony.

Jewish unity is one of the central themes of Sukkot. The four kinds you are holding symbolize four types of Jews, with differing levels of Torah knowledge and observance. Bringing them together represents our unity as a nation—despite our external differences. So in this spirit of unity, be sure to share your arba minim with your Jewish friends and neighbors!

Click here to purchase a set of arba minim.


Note: On the first two days of Sukkot, the mitzvah can be fulfilled only using one’s own Four Kinds. As such, if using someone else’s set, it needs to be given as “a present, conditional on its return.” You can then use the set—your set—and then you return it, as a gift, to its original owner.

The Sukkot 2014 Calendar

Sunday-Wednesday October 5-8 – 11-14 Tishrei

As soon as the solemn day of Yom Kippur is behind us we focus on the traditions of the upcoming holiday of Sukkot. These four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot are characterized by frenetic activity--purchasing of the Four Kinds, erecting the sukkah hut, inviting guests for the forthcoming holiday, shopping for and preparing all the meals, and purchasing new clothing in honor of the holiday.

Click here for a Purchaser's Guide for the Four Kinds.

Click here for a Sukkah Building Guide.

Click here for traditional holiday recipes. 

Wednesday October 8 – 14 Tishrei
The Day Before Sukkot

It is customary to bind together the four species: the lulav, hadasim and aravot today, while in the sukkah. Click here to learn how.

Since the festival begins on a Wednesday night, we prepare an eruv tavshilin.

On the day before Sukkot it is traditional to give extra charity, for true joy is sharing with others.

Women and girls light candles -- preferably in the sukkah -- in order to usher in the holiday. Click here for the text of the blessings, and here for local candle lighting times. Click here for a summary of the laws of Yom Tov. Click here for a digest of the laws of dwelling in the sukkah.

After evening prayers, we enjoy a holiday meal. Even if it is pouring rain, on this night it is a mitzvah to at least make kiddush and eat an ounce of challah in the sukkah. We dip the challah in honey.

The group of supernal guests -- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David -- that graces our sukkahs throughout the holiday (known as ushpizin) are tonight and tomorrow led by our Patriarch Abraham. The chassidic entourage of ushpizin -- consisting of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezeritch, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, the Rebbe Rashab, and the Rebbe Rayatz -- is led by the Baal Shem Tov.

Tonight begins the Simchat Beit Hosho'eva celebrations. It is customary to dance and sing in commemoration of the Water Drawing Festivals held nightly in the Holy Temple throughout the holiday of Sukkot. Click here for more on Simchat Beit Hasho'eva.

Thursday October 9 – 15 Tishrei
1st day of Sukkot

We shake the Four Kinds. Click here for a how-to guide.

Morning service. Full Hallel is recited, followed by the Hoshanot (circling of the synagogue's reading table with the Four Kinds, while reciting special prayers petitioning G-d for ample livelihood in the coming year).
Two Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark.
Torah reading: Leviticus 22:26–23:44 and Numbers 29:12–16.
Haftorah: Zachariah 14:1–21.

The Priests bless the congregation with the Priestly Blessing during the Musaf prayer.

Festive lunch meal in the sukkah. We dip the challah in honey.

After dark, women and girls light candles -- preferably in the sukkah -- for the Second day of Sukkot, using an existing flame. Click here for the text of the blessings, and here for local candle lighting times.

After evening prayers, festive holiday meal in the sukkah. We dip the challah in honey.

The group of supernal guests -- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David -- that graces our sukkahs throughout the holiday (known as ushpizin) are tonight and tomorrow led by our Patriarch Isaac. The chassidic entourage of ushpizin -- consisting of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezeritch, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, the Rebbe Rashab, and the Rebbe Rayatz -- is led by the Maggid of Mezeritch.

Simchat Beit Hosho'eva celebrations continue. It is customary to dance and sing in commemoration of the Water Drawing Festivals held nightly in the Holy Temple throughout the holiday of Sukkot. Click here for more on Simchat Beit Hasho'eva.

Friday October 10 – 16 Tishrei
2nd Day of Sukkot

We shake the Four Kinds. Click here for a how-to guide.

Morning service. Full Hallel is recited, followed by the Hoshanot (circling of the synagogue's reading table with the Four Kinds, while reciting special prayers petitioning G-d for ample livelihood in the coming year).
Two Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark.
Torah reading: Leviticus 22:26–23:44 and Numbers 29:12–16.
Haftorah: I Kings 8:2–21.

The Priests bless the congregation with the Priestly Blessing during the Musaf prayer.

Festive lunch meal in the sukkah. The challah is dipped in honey.

If you did an eruv tavshilin on Wednesday, cook the foods necessary for Shabbat, using a flame that has been lit from the onset of the holiday.

18 minutes before sunset, women and girls light candles -- preferably in the sukkah -- for Shabbat, using an existing flame. Click here for the text of the blessing, and here for local candle lighting times.

After abridged Shabbat evening prayers (with the addition of the Yaaleh Veyavo insert in the Amidah) festive Shabbat meal in the sukkah.

The group of supernal guests -- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David -- that graces our sukkahs throughout the holiday (known as ushpizin) are tonight and tomorrow led by our Patriarch Jacob. The chassidic entourage of ushpizin -- consisting of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezeritch, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, the Rebbe Rashab, and the Rebbe Rayatz -- is led by the Alter Rebbe.

Simchat Beit Hosho'eva celebrations continue. It is customary to dance and sing in commemoration of the Water Drawing Festivals held nightly in the Holy Temple throughout the holiday of Sukkot. Click here for more on Simchat Beit Hasho'eva.

Shabbat October 11 – 17 Tishrei
3rd day of Sukkot
Chol Hamoed

We do not take the Four Kinds today in observance of Shabbat.

Morning service: Normal Shabbat prayers, with the addition of the Yaaleh Veyavo insert in the Amidah.
Complete Hallel is recited. Two Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark.
Torah reading: Exodus 33:12–34:26 and Numbers 29:17–22.
Haftorah: Ezekiel 38:18-39:15.

Holiday Musaf Amidah.

Celebrate Sukkot’s Chol Hamoed ("intermediate days"). Between now and Shemini Atzeret, we may resume much (not all) of our regular, workday activities except for today which is Shabbat; but, of course, we continue to eat in the sukkah. It is customary to drink a glass of wine each day, in celebration of the festival. Click here for a digest of the laws of Chol Hamoed.

The group of supernal guests -- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David -- that graces our sukkahs throughout the holiday (known as ushpizin) are tonight and tomorrow led by Moses. The chassidic entourage of ushpizin -- consisting of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezeritch, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, the Rebbe Rashab, and the Rebbe Rayatz -- is led by the Mitteler Rebbe.

Simchat Beit Hosho'eva celebrations continue. It is customary to dance and sing in commemoration of the Water Drawing Festivals held nightly in the Holy Temple throughout the holiday of Sukkot. And now that the holiday and Shabbat have concluded, the festivities are often accompanied by live music. Click here for more on Simchat Beit Hasho'eva. Click here for a Sukkot event in your location.

After nightfall, perform the Havdalah ceremony.

Sunday October 12 – 18 Tishrei
4th day of Sukkot
2nd day of Chol Hamoed (intermediate day)

We shake the Four Kinds. Click here for a how-to guide.

Morning service: In many communities, throughout the intermediate days of Sukkot, tefillin are not worn.
Full Hallel is recited, followed by the Hoshanot (circling of the synagogue's reading table with the Four Kinds, while reciting special prayers petitioning G-d for ample livelihood in the coming year). Today we say today's section of Hoshanot as well as the section for the 3rd day of Sukkot, which we did not say yesterday due to Shabbat. But we only circle the reading table once.
One Torah scroll is taken out of the ark.
Torah reading: Numbers 29:20–28.

The Musaf Amidah is recited. During all of the Intermediate Days, Yaaleh Veyavo is inserted during all prayers and in the Grace After Meals.

Chol Hamoed (the "intermediate days") are observed with limited work restriction. Click here for a digest of the laws of Chol Hamoed.

The group of supernal guests -- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David -- that graces our sukkahs throughout the holiday (known as ushpizin) are tonight and tomorrow led by Aaron the High Priest. The chassidic entourage of ushpizin -- consisting of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezeritch, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, the Rebbe Rashab, and the Rebbe Rayatz -- is led by the Tzemach Tzedek.

Simchat Beit Hosho'eva celebrations continue. It is customary to dance and sing in commemoration of the Water Drawing Festivals held nightly in the Holy Temple throughout the holiday of Sukkot. Click here for more on Simchat Beit Hasho'eva. Click here for a Sukkot event in your location.

Monday October 13 – 19 Tishrei
5th day of Sukkot
3rd day of Chol Hamoed (intermediate day)

We shake the Four Kinds. Click here for a how-to guide.

Morning service: In many communities, throughout the intermediate days of Sukkot, tefillin are not worn.
Full Hallel is recited, followed by the Hoshanot (circling of the synagogue's reading table with the Four Kinds, while reciting special prayers petitioning G-d for ample livelihood in the coming year).
One Torah scroll is taken out of the ark.
Torah reading: Numbers 29:23–31.

The Musaf Amidah is recited. During all of the Intermediate Days, Yaaleh Veyavo is inserted during all prayers and in the Grace After Meals.

Chol Hamoed (the "intermediate days") are observed with limited work restriction. Click here for a digest of the laws of Chol Hamoed.

The group of supernal guests -- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David -- that graces our sukkahs throughout the holiday (known as ushpizin) are tonight and tomorrow led by Joseph. The chassidic entourage of ushpizin -- consisting of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezeritch, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, the Rebbe Rashab, and the Rebbe Rayatz -- is led by the Rebbe Maharash.

Simchat Beit Hosho'eva celebrations continue. It is customary to dance and sing in commemoration of the Water Drawing Festivals held nightly in the Holy Temple throughout the holiday of Sukkot. Click here for more on Simchat Beit Hasho'eva. Click here for a Sukkot event in your location.

Tuesday October 14 – 20 Tishrei
6th day of Sukkot
4th day of Chol Hamoed (intermediate day)

Shake the Four Kinds

Morning service.

Complete Hallel is recited.

Torah reading: Numbers 29:26-34.

During all of the Intermediate Days, Yaaleh Veyavo is inserted during all prayers and in the Grace After Meals.

The group of supernal guests -- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David -- that graces our sukkahs throughout the holiday (known as ushpizin) are tonight and tomorrow led by King David. The chassidic entourage of ushpizin -- consisting of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezeritch, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, the Rebbe Rashab, and the Rebbe Rayatz -- is led by the Rebbe Rashab.

Simchat Beit Hosho'eva celebrations continue. It is customary to dance and sing in commemoration of the Water Drawing Festivals held nightly in the Holy Temple throughout the holiday of Sukkot. Click here for more on Simchat Beit Hasho'eva. Click here for a Sukkot event in your location.

Tonight and tomorrow is Hoshanah Rabbah. It is customary in many communities to remain awake all night. It is traditional to recite the Book of Deuteronomy before midnight, and the Book of Psalms after midnight.

Wednesday October 15 – 21 Tishrei
7th day of Sukkot
5th day of Chol Hamoed (intermediate day)
Hoshanah Rabbah

We shake the Four Kinds. Click here for a how-to guide.

Morning service: In many communities, throughout the intermediate days of Sukkot, tefillin are not worn.
Before Hallel, we remove the upper two bands from the lulav. Full Hallel is recited, followed by the Hoshanot (circling of the synagogue's reading table with the Four Kinds, while reciting special prayers petitioning G-d for ample livelihood in the coming year). During today's Hoshanot we circle the reading table seven times, followed by several pages of special prayers, wherein we ask G-d to bless us with abundant rain. At the conclusion of the Hoshanot we take a bundle of five willows and with it we strike the ground five times.
One Torah scroll is taken out of the ark.
Torah reading: Numbers 29:26–34.

The Musaf Amidah is recited. During all of the Intermediate Days, Yaaleh Veyavo is inserted during all prayers and in the Grace After Meals.

Chol Hamoed (the "intermediate days") are observed with limited work restriction. Click here for a digest of the laws of Chol Hamoed.

Many have the custom to eat kreplach – ground beef or chicken-filled dough, folded into triangles – on this day. Click here for a recipe. These are usually eaten during the festive lunch meal during which one also washes over challah or bread.

Click here for more about Hoshanah Rabbah.

Tonight is Shemini Atzeret. Since the festival begins on a Wednesday night, we prepare an eruv tavshilin.

Women and girls light candles -- preferably in the sukkah -- in order to usher in the holiday. Click here for the text of the blessings, and here for local candle lighting times.

Please refer to our Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah Calendar for further instructions.

Preparing for Sukkot

The days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot are traditionally characterized by frenzied activity, as we prepare for the coming festival. This period is described in the Midrash as one when the Jewish people are "preoccupied with mitzvot... this one is occupied with [building] his sukkah, this one is occupied with [purchasing and binding] his lulav..."

Immediately on the night following Yom Kippur, we eagerly begin working on – or at least planning – the construction of the sukkah. Building a sukkah is a mitzvah in itself; therefore, if possible we try not to delegate the task to others, but reserve the honor for ourselves. We also take the time to select the most beautiful Four Species set we can afford.

In honor of the impending holiday, husbands buy their wives clothing and/or jewelry. And since one of the themes of Sukkot is Jewish unity, we make a point of inviting guests for the festive meals. Before Sukkot is the time to think of the people who might appreciate an invite.

On the eve of the festival, in addition to cooking the delicious food that we will later enjoy together in the sukkah, we:

  • Give extra charity, since true joy is sharing with others;
  • Bind the lulav. This should ideally be done inside the sukkah;
  • If the festival begins on a Wednesday night, we prepare an eruv tavshilin.

Women and girls light holiday candles and recite the appropriate blessings (click here for candle lighting times in your location, and here for the text of the blessings). The candles should be set up in the sukkah if at all possible, weather permitting.

Light Festival (and Shabbat) Candles

Girls and all women that are in the house (or if there isn't a woman in the house, the head of the household), light candles to usher in each night of the holiday and Shabbat. Follow this link for detailed holiday candle-lighting time information.

Blessings for 18-19 September 2013:

1) Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam asher ki-deshanu be-mitzvo-tav ve-tzvi-vanu le-hadlik ner shel Yom Tov.

Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to light the candle of the Holiday.

2) Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam she-heche-ya-nu ve-ki-yi-ma-nu ve-higi-a-nu liz-man ha-zeh

Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Blessing for September 20, 2013 (before sunset):

Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam asher ki-deshanu be-mitzvo-tav ve-tzvi-vanu le-hadlik ner shel Shabbat kodesh.

Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to light the candle of the holy Shabbat.

Rejoice!

The festival of Sukkot is the most joyous of the three biblically mandated festivals. In the holiday prayers, each festival is given its own descriptive name: Passover is the "Season of our Liberation," Shavuot is the "Season of the Giving of our Torah," but Sukkot is described simply as the "Season of our Rejoicing"!

The Torah enjoins us no less than three times to rejoice, and be only happy, on Sukkot. (No other festival is the subject of this instruction more than once.)

Sukkot is the holiday when we celebrate Jewish unity—as symbolized by the sukkah, whose holy walls bring us all together; and the Four Kinds, that symbolize the essential unity of all Jews, despite differing levels of Torah knowledge and observance.

In the times when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, on every night of the holiday (starting with the second night), there was a grand Water Drawing Celebration. Unique to the holiday of Sukkot is the mitzvah to offer a water libation on the altar, in addition to the wine libation that accompanied all the sacrifices throughout the year. This water was drawn on the evening beforehand, amidst great fanfare, singing, reveling, and even acrobatic stunts performed by the time's greatest sages.

In fact the Talmud states that "one who has not witnessed the Festival of the Water Drawing has not seen joy in his lifetime!"

(Click here to read more about the Water Drawing Celebration.)

Today, too, it is customary to assemble on the nights of Sukkot; to sing, dance, say "l'chaim," and be merry. Click here to find a celebration in your area!

Hoshana Rabbah

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. It is the day when the verdict that was issued on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is finalized.

The Midrash tells us that G‑d told Abraham: “If atonement is not granted to your children on Rosh Hashanah, I will grant it on Yom Kippur; if they do not attain atonement on Yom Kippur, it will be given on Hoshana Rabbah.”

Isaiah says,1 “They seek Me day [after] day.” The Talmud explains2 that these two “days” refer to the day when the shofar is sounded (Rosh Hashanah) and the day when we take the willow (Hoshana Rabbah)—the day when the heavenly judgment begins, and the day when it concludes.

In addition, on Sukkot we are judged regarding how much rain will fall in the upcoming year.3 Thus, on Hoshana Rabbah, the final day of Sukkot, this judgment is finalized. Considering how much our wellbeing and economy depend on bountiful rainfall, it is clear how important this day is.

The Day of the Willow

The primary observance of Hoshana Rabbah is “the taking of the willow.” In addition to the Four Kinds taken every day of Sukkot, it is a tradition, dating back to the times of the prophets, to take an additional willow on the seventh day of Sukkot. This commemorates the willow ceremony in the Holy Temple, where large, eighteen-foot willow branches were set around the altar every day of Sukkot. Every day of Sukkot the altar was circled once, to the sounds of supplications for divine assistance; on Hoshana Rabbah, the altar was circled seven times.

Today, during the course of the Hoshana Rabbah morning services, all the Torah scrolls are taken out of the Ark and are held by people standing around the bimah (Torah reading table). The congregation then makes seven circuits around the bimah (instead of the one circuit done the other days of Sukkot) while reciting the Hoshaanot prayers, with the Four Kinds in hand. At the conclusion of the Hoshaanot we take a bundle of five willows (available for a nominal fee at most synagogues), and with it we strike the ground five times, symbolizing the “tempering of the five measures of harshness.”

It is customary for all—men, women, and even small children—to perform this ritual. One should not use a willow bundle already used by another; a bundle should be purchased for every family member. After the bundle is used, many have the custom of throwing it onto the top of the Ark.

To read about the deeper significance of this mitzvah, see One Twig and One Leaf.

Other Hoshana Rabbah observances:

Night Learning

In consideration of the auspiciousness of the day, it is customary in many communities to remain awake on the night preceding Hoshana Rabbah. We recite the entire Book of Deuteronomy, wherein the precepts to love and fear G‑d are expounded at length. In certain communities, the entire book of Deuteronomy is read in the synagogue from the Torah scroll. After midnight, the entire Book of Psalms is recited. In some congregations it is a custom for the gabbai (synagogue manager) to distribute apples (signifying a “sweet year”) to the congregants. These apples are then taken home, dipped in honey, and eaten in the sukkah.

Morning Prayers

Because of the length of the day’s Hoshaanot prayers, the morning service is a bit longer than the usual Chol Hamoed prayers. However, in many communities (though not in Chabad synagogues), the prayers are augmented with many standard holiday prayers as well as additional liturgy composed specifically for Hoshana Rabbah—and as such, last for several hours. In fact, in certain communities it is even customary to sound the shofar, as a call to repentance, during the course of the prayers.

The Hoshaanot prayers and circuits are done immediately before the reading of the Torah, or in some communities, after the Musaf prayer.

Lekach

The Rebbe would distribute lekach (honey cake) on Hoshana Rabbah, to those who had not received a piece before Yom Kippur (see here for more information on this custom). Click here to watch a video clip of the Rebbe distributing lekach on Hoshana Rabbah of 5742 (1981); and here for Hoshana Rabbah 5749 (1988).

Festive Meal

A festive meal is eaten in the sukkah. We dip the bread in honey for the last time. Many have the custom to eat kreplach—dough filled with ground beef or chicken, folded into triangles—on this day. Click here for a recipe.

Hoshana Rabbah 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 eighth day, Shemini Atzeret).

Eruv Tavshilin

In the event that Hoshana Rabbah falls on a Wednesday (so that Simchat Torah will be Thursday night and Friday), an eruv tavshilin must be made on Hoshana Rabbah, to allow cooking and other necessary Shabbat preparations to be done on Friday. Click here for more on this topic and to learn how to make an eruv tavshilin.


Useful Sukkot Links:

Sukkot Mega-Site

Global Sukkot Events Locator

Holiday Study & Insights

Sukkot Stories

High Holiday Shopping

Sukkot Kids' Zone

Sukkot Audio Classes and Videos

FOOTNOTES
1.

Isaiah 58:2.

2.

Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 4:8.

3.

Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 16a.

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