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Hoshana Rabbah

Hoshana Rabbah

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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.

FOOTNOTES
1.

Isaiah 58:2.

2.

Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 4:8.

3.

Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 16a.

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Discussion (9)
September 25, 2013
Text of Hoshanot
Yes, you can find part of the text here: All About Hoshanot
Chabad.org Staff
mychabad.org
September 25, 2013
Text for hoshanot prayer
Do you have the text for the prayer we say when we hit the 5 willow branches online ?
Anonymous
Chicago
October 19, 2011
Hoshannah Rabbah
A beautiful custom!

with thanks for telling me about this.

I love moving from, joy, to even greater joy!
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
October 19, 2011
hashana raba
many thanks for informing me,there is stuff here that I wasn`t aware of ,
May hashem Bless You ALL
maxine
montreal, canada
September 30, 2010
wonderful info!
Thank you so much. for all the wonderful info that you typical supply for us. I am Blessed...
yvonne russell
Jonesboro , Ga/USA
September 29, 2010
Yom Tov
My family and I thank you for helping us with your updates on the rules of these holidays, it helps us do all necessary mitzvoth. Thank you, and may hashem bless you and the Jewish nation, this year and all the years to come. Next year in Jerusalem!
Naomi
Lawrence , Ny
September 29, 2010
Those who wear tefillin during Chol Hamoed (Ashkenazim) wear them on Hoshanah Rabba as well. Sepharadim, Chassidim, and those Ashkenazim who do not wear tefillin on Chol Hamoed do not wear them on Hoshanah Rabba either. The Chabad custom is not to wear tefillin on these days.
Menachem Posner for Chabad.org
September 29, 2010
Tefellin
Do we don tefellin today, Hoshannah Rabbah?
Avroham
Nassau, Bahamas
September 28, 2010
wonderful info!
thank you for this wonderful service that Chabad.org provides!!
Mike