1. There are aspects of Hosha’ana Rabbah, such as the recital of “tikkun,” that have nothing to do with joy. Nevertheless, Simchas Bais Hashoeva — Celebration of the Water Drawing — is present on every night of Sukkos, as explicitly stated in Mishnah (Sukkah 8:1): “The flute playing (at the water drawing) took place sometimes on five days and sometimes on six.” That is, it took place on every day of Chol HaMoed. (The flute was not played on Shabbos or Yom Tov. Thus, when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos, there are six days of flute playing; when it falls on weekday, there are only five days). And thus Simchas Bais Hashoeva is present also on Hosha’ana Rabbah, the last day of Chol HaMoed.

Indeed, Simchas Bais Hashoeva on Hosha’ana Rabbah is loftier than on the other days of Sukkos for several reasons:

1) Torah commands to “increase in sanctity,” and thus each successive night of Sukkos must see an increase in joy. Because Hosha’ana Rabbah is the last night, its joy, which follows the successively increasing joy of the previous nights, is the greatest of all.

2) Because Hosha’ana Rabbah is the last night, it is the conclusion and “seal” of Simchas Bais Hashoeva — and “everything follows the conclusion.”

3) Simchas Bais Hashoeva is connected to the joy of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. Although separate concepts, there is an interrelation between them simply because they both share the same theme: joy. This is particularly emphasized on Hosha’ana Rabbah, for it is erev Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.

We see, then, that not only must one be joyous on Hosha’ana Rabbah, but the celebration of Simchas Bais Hashoeva then is of the loftiest degree. And although the concepts unique to Hosha’ana Rabbah (e.g. the recital of “tikkun”) take up much time, one can still engage in both types of activities (Simchas Bais Hashoeva and the recital of tikkun), for, says G‑d, “I do not ask of them according to My abilities, but according to their (Jews’) abilities.”

This idea is present on the other nights of Sukkos too, on each of which two different concepts are present: Simchas Bais Hashoeva, and the idea of the “guests” which visit every night. Although the latter is associated with the former, they are basically separate concepts, to the extent that they take place at different times: The “guests” visit during the meal, whereas Simchas Bais Hashoeva takes place when the water is drawn. Nevertheless, Jews devote time to both these concepts on each night of Sukkos. Indeed, not only are they not contradictory, but they complement one another.

So too with the night of Hosha’ana Rabbah. Although its other activities necessitate much time, a Jew can still devote attention to both them and to Simchas Bais Hashoeva. All its concepts can be done perfectly. Moreover, joy is even loftier than “perfection,” for joy breaks through all limits — even the limit of perfection. And, as noted in the case of the other nights of Sukkos, not only are the different concepts not contradictory, but they complement one another. The recital of “tikkun,” the “guests,” and the daily portion of Chumash all add to the joy of Simchas Bais Hashoeva.

2. Hosha’ana Rabbah’s “guests” are King David (of those enumerated in the Zohar: Avraham, Yitzchok, Ya’akov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef and David) and the Rebbe Rashab (of the “Chassidic guests” enumerated by the previous Rebbe: Baal Shem Tov, Maggid, Alter Rebbe, Mitteler Rebbe, Tzemach Tzedek, Rebbe Maharash and Rebbe Rashab). The common theme of tonight’s “guests” is that both are associated with the idea of “kesser” — “crown.”

In regard to King David, a “crown” is one of the main objects in a monarchy, to the extent that the king’s splendor depends on it — as stated, “Your eyes shall see the king in his splendor.” This is particularly true of the Davidic kings, as our Sages have said: “It was a testimony to the house of David that whoever was eligible for the kingship, the crown fitted him, but it would not fit anyone who was not eligible.” Moreover, David is the “Sweet Singer of Israel” — i.e. author of Tehillim. Tehillim begins with the word “Ashrei,” which word appears twenty times in Tehillim — and the number twenty corresponds to “kesser” — crown.

In regard to the Rebbe Rashab, he was born in the year 5621, which in Hebrew is “Kesser-Aleph.” Further, his birthdate is the twentieth of MarCheshvan — and “twenty” in Hebrew is “chof” — again, the idea of “kesser.” The connection between this and Hosha’ana Rabbah is that Hosha’ana Rabbah is the end of Sukkos and Simchas Bais Hashoeva; and according to the rule that “the end is rooted in the beginning,” Hosha’ana Rabbah is rooted in the beginning of all the worlds — the level of “kesser.”

How does the idea of “kesser” add to joy? “Kesser” has the meaning “makif,” “surrounding” or “encompassing.” Joy associated with “kesser” therefore surrounds the whole person, encompassing his total existence. Simultaneously, this joy permeates a person in his inner aspects — just as a crown adds to a king’s splendor.

This teaches how Hosha’ana Rabbah should be celebrated. A person must serve G‑d with joy all year round; Yom Tov contributes additional joy; Sukkos, the “Season of our Rejoicing, yet more joy; Simchas Bais Hashoevah contributes an extra element of joy, a successively greater amount each night, culminating in Hosha’ana Rabbah. In addition to all of the above, the idea of “kesser,” “makif,” lends a unique aspect to the joy of Hosha’ana Rabbah. This “makif” encompasses the joy of Hosha’ana Rabbah and its other aspects: although individual concepts in their own right, they are encompassed together by the level of kesser.

In slightly different words: While all aspects of Hosha’ana Rabbah are permeated with the joy that stems from the level of kesser, these aspects still retain their individuality. Such a service — to retain all the concepts as individual entities, while simultaneously encompassed together by and within joy — is an extremely difficult one, for since joy “breaks through all barriers,” it is the antithesis of orderly service when each concept retains its proper place. It can be done however, for we find differing levels in joy (makif) itself — although joy in general is the idea of breaking all barriers.

Another theme common to tonight’s guests is that both emphasize the idea of smallness and descent — through which one eventually reaches the ultimate in ascents, the level of “kesser.” Of King David it is stated that “David is the small one,” analogous to the moon which is the “small luminary.” Likewise, the concept of “kesser” associated with the Rebbe Rashab is connected to the days of the month (the 20th of MarCheshvan) — again, the idea of the moon, the “small luminary.” It is specifically through descent and self-nullification (the waning of the moon) that one reaches the highest level, “kesser” — for “descent is for the purpose of ascent.”

In further clarification: The sun and moon were at first created equal, “the two great luminaries.” Afterwards, the moon was reduced; it experienced a descent. This descent is for the purpose of ascent — for in the future, the moon’s light will be like the sun’s: it will also be a “great luminary.” Indeed, it will be even greater than before the descent, greater than the sun — ”descent for the purpose of ascent.”

The above is particularly emphasized this year, a leap year. A leap year, by adding an extra month, makes up the number of days in a lunar year that are less than a solar year. And, not only is the deficiency made up, but the year then becomes longer than a solar year.

The idea that “descent is for the purpose of ascent” is emphasized not just by today’s “guests” (that both are “small”), but also by the fact that Hosha’ana Rabbah is “erev” Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.

The three festivals of Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos correspond to Avraham, Yitzchok and Ya’akov respectively. Shemini Atzeres corresponds to Yosef. Because Hosha’ana Rabbah is erev (and the preparation to) Shemini Atzeres, it follows that Yosef is also associated with Hosha’ana Rabbah. And the idea of “descent for the purpose of ascent” is highly emphasized in the case of Yosef.

Scripture (Bereishis 39:1) states that “Yosef was brought down to Egypt.” In Egypt itself, Yosef experienced a further descent — imprisonment. Yet it was precisely through this descent that Yosef was elevated to the highest position in Egypt. And his physical experiences were paralleled by his spiritual life. The lower the descent, the higher the following ascent — and therefore Yosef’s double descent (into Egypt and then into prison) resulted in a correspondingly high ascent.

We find the same phenomenon with the previous Rebbe, whose name is Yosef. After his descent into prison, the dissemination of Judaism and Chassidus was greatly expanded.

This theme (descent leading to ascent) is also found in today’s portion of Chumash, the fourth section of parshas Berachah. It states (Devorim 33:18): “To Zevulun he said: Rejoice Zevulun in your going out, and Yissachar in your tents.” Rashi comments that “Zevulun and Yissachar made a partnership: Zevulun went out to business ... made profit and gave thereof to Yissachar who sat and engaged in Torah. Therefore [Scripture] placed Zevulun before Yissachar, for Yissachar’s Torah came about through Zevulun.”

The difference between Zevulun and Yissachar parallels that between Torah and mitzvos. “Yissachar” refers to those whose principal service is Torah study (“Yissachar in your tents”). Zevulun’s service lies principally in good deeds, fulfillment of mitzvos. More generally, Zevulun’s service is to refine and elevate the world (“Zevulun in your going out”).

The same applies to Torah and mitzvos: The world is refined mainly through actual performance of mitzvos, which are enclothed in physical objects — and not as much through Torah study, which is intellectual comprehension.

That today’s portion of Chumash places Zevulun before Yissachar emphasizes the greatness of mitzvos and its accompanying refinement of the world vis-a-vis Torah study. Thus the idea of descent — into the world to engage in worldly matters — which results in an ascent, is emphasized by today’s portion of Chumash.

The same concept is further emphasized by the continuation of today’s portion of Chumash (33:20): “To Gad he said ... He dwells at peace like a dead lion, tearing the head at one stroke with the arm.” This verse is associated with the mitzvah of tefillin — for Jewish warriors are able to “tear the head at one stroke with the arm” through the merit of putting tefillin on the arm and head.

Tefillin emphasizes the idea of refining the world. Part of the mitzvah of tefillin is to subjugate one’s brain and heart to G‑d: the tefillin on the hand corresponds to the subjugation of one’s actions, including one’s “portion in the world;” tefillin on the head corresponds to subjugation of one’s brain to G‑d. Moreover, say our Sages (Kiddushin 35a), “The entire Torah is compared to tefillin.” This refers to all the mitzvos of the Torah, and, as noted above, the idea of mitzvos (compared to Torah) is to refine the world. Thus Gad emphasizes the distinction of performing mitzvos and refining the world.

3. In addition to all of the above, there is another concept peculiar to Hosha’ana Rabbah that is not found in any of the other days of Sukkos. Besides the mitzvah of taking the four kinds and reciting Hosha’anos, which exist on all the days of Sukkos, on Hosha’ana Rabbah we take five aravahs (willow branches) and strike them on the ground.

This, although only a custom of the prophets, possesses an element not found in the mitzvah of the four kinds. Although the latter is a mitzvah from the Torah, if the first day of Yom Tov falls on Shabbos, we do not perform this mitzvah then. In regard to striking the aravah, however, the calendar is so fixed that Hosha’ana Rabbah can never fall on Shabbos — allowing this custom to be performed every year without fail. This shows the greatness of a “custom.” The very fact that it is not a mitzvah in the Written Torah shows that it stems from a source so high that it cannot be explicitly revealed in the Torah. And this is why it was made sure that Hosha’ana Rabbah should never fall on Shabbos, allowing us to strike the aravah.

We can draw inferences from this for Simchas Bais Hashoevah. The Rambam makes no explicit mention of Simchas Bais Hashoeva, although he elaborates in great detail on the lofty joy of Sukkos. A Jew may therefore think that it is not a very important thing — that it is only a custom. The striking of the aravah teaches the lofty nature of a Jewish custom, to the extent that special measures were taken to ensure it could not be deferred because of Shabbos.

The custom to strike the aravah emphasizes the idea that through a descent, one reaches the highest levels. The aravah is the plainest of the four kinds, for it has no smell or taste. Yet only it is called “achvinah” — because it grows “in “achvah” — “in friendship” (i.e. willows grow closely together).

Although each of the four kinds express the idea of unity, nevertheless, the qualities of the other three kinds (taste, smell or both) overshadow the aspect of unity they possess. The aravah, in contrast, has no special qualities, and therefore its unity is revealed. That is why the element of unity possessed by the other three is explained in Chassidus (the esoteric of Torah) only, whereas that of the aravah is explicitly recorded in the exoteric aspect of Torah (“achvinah”).

In man’s service to G‑d, “aravah” corresponds to plain people without special qualities (no taste or smell). It is specifically in them that the idea of unity is emphasized, extending to unity with G‑d.

Furthermore, the aravah used on Hosha’ana Rabbah is not the one used in the mitzvah of the four kinds; a separate aravah must be used. For if the one used in the mitzvah of the four kinds was used, the very fact that it was used for a mitzvah gives it a special distinction — which somewhat obscures its totally plain nature. A new aravah, never used for a mitzvah, emphasizes its pure plain nature.

Now we can understand why the custom of striking the aravah emphasizes the idea of ascent following descent. Through the lowly aravah — a new one, without any redeeming qualities — we perform the unique service of Hosha’ana Rabbah, the “custom of the prophets,” which, we explained previously, is of the highest level.

The above is expressed in the result that follows the fulfillment of this custom. The text of the prayer that follows the beating of the aravah says that through the striking “there shall be five ‘sweetened’ severities.” Chassidus explains that sweetening of the severities (which leads to the strengthening of kindness) — is greater than just drawing down kindness. This is the idea noted above: that specifically through a descent do we reach the highest levels.

The first severity to be sweetened is the exile, the greatest of all descents. The greater the descent, the greater the following ascent. After the great descent of exile, we reach the ultimate heights, through which the severities are sweetened. In the future, Jews will say “I give thanks to You, G‑d, that You were angry with me” — meaning that Jews will thank G‑d for the exile, for then they will see the greatness that resulted from it.

However, even with this explanation, the idea that Jews will thank G‑d for the exile will be a matter of faith. For G‑d, Who is omnipotent, can effect the loftiest levels (sweetening the severities) without first having the severities, the exile. This is particularly so when the severities in this case are not just spiritual ones, but physical ones, the persecutions and tragedies of the exile. Thus intellectually, the necessity of the exile is impossible to understand. Why need the Shechinah (Divine Presence) be in exile, Moshiach in exile, every Jew in exile — and getting worse every day?! We can only take it on faith that in the future we will thank G‑d for the exile.

G‑d concealed the reason for the exile so that a Jew should sincerely beseech G‑d that He should “speedily cause the scion of David Your servant to flourish.” If there would be even the tiniest amount of understanding that there is some good in exile — one would not ask for the end of exile in total sincerely.

There is thus a paradox: On the one hand, Jews must believe with perfect faith that in the future they will give thanks to G‑d for the exile. On the other hand, they must cry out with all their might that they want to leave exile!

The time for the true and complete redemption has certainly arrived, when the promise that “You shall on that day say ‘I thank you, G‑d, that You were angry with me” will be fulfilled. And, as noted above, this is emphasized in the striking of the aravah, which is the idea of sweetening the severities.

Because “deed is paramount,” all the above must be translated into actual deed. We must tonight utilize the time that is not dedicated to the recital of tikkun, to celebrate Simchas Bais Hashoeva. It must not be a fake joy, but a true one. For although there are things that prevent joy (the exile, etc.), we can put aside these considerations for the moment, and truly be joyous. Moreover, it is through joy that we abolish the exile — for joy breaks through all barriers.

4. A further point: One of the things which bring the redemption closer is tzedakah, as our Sages say (B. Basra 10a): “Great is tzedakah for it brings near the redemption.” It emphasizes the idea of refining the world, as the Alter Rebbe writes (Tanya, ch. 37): “You can find no mitzvah in which the vital soul is clothed to the same extent as in the mitzvah of tzedakah: for in all the other commandments only one faculty of the vital soul is clothed ... while in the case of tzedakah, which a man gives out of the toil of his hands, all the strength of his vital soul is embodied in his work ... thus when he gives it for charity, his whole vital soul ascends to G‑d.” And through this, his portion in the world, and the entire world, is elevated and refined. This is especially so when tzedakah is combined with joy, for then, because joy breaks through all barriers, the world is elevated in a loftier manner.

It is thus proper to now increase in tzedakah. We will therefore give dollars to be distributed to those here — so that these dollars can be given to tzedakah during the day.

May it be G‑d’s will that from the celebration of Simchas Bais Hashoeva we proceed to the principal joy — when all Jews will leave exile with joy and a good heart, “with our youth and our elders, with our sons and our daughters.”