At the end of Sukkot we enjoy the unique day of Hoshana Rabba. What it’s all about?
Table for Five: Special Sukkot Edition
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
God, please, crown this year with blessing, and hear my words as I pray, on the day of Hoshana, save please, save us please!-From the Hoshana Rabbah prayers (seventh day of Sukkot)
Denise Berger, Freelance writer
Known also as zman simchateinu, time of our happiness, Sukkot carries a Torah commandment to rejoice throughout these seven days. The Torah also tells us that during this week we are to remember our experience in the desert, characterized by vulnerability and Divine protection. In just a few words, this prayer for the final day of Sukkot encapsulates its essence, along with a profound message that carries us forward.
The idea of crowning suggests royal status — the ultimate compliment in ancient times. Throughout Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and the days in between, we refer to G-d as our all-powerful King. Now, rather than pleading as peasants at the palace gate, there’s an assumption that we too are royal, as a result of our prayers having been accepted. This is definitely cause for joy, along with relief, gratitude, and a sense of excitement for the year of blessings ahead.
Then practically in the same breath, there’s an urgent, almost desperate, request for salvation. The contrast feels jarring. One moment is a coronation and the next is a supplication.
Modern thinkers are only beginning to understand what was obvious to the sages who wrote this verse. In the words of Brene Brown, “joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience”. As soon as we are aware that something (or someone) is precious, fear of loss kicks in. According to Brown, acceptance of vulnerability is the key to lasting joy — just as this prayer articulates.
Kylie Ora Lobell, Community and Arts Editor, Jewish Journal
“Save please, save us please!” These words ring especially true this year.
Throughout much of the pandemic, I’ve said something similar to God when I daven Shema every night, “Please God, save us from coronavirus. Let it all be over soon.” I’m sure many others have done the same.
The holiday of Hoshana Rabbah is our final chance to appeal to God before He seals our fate for the upcoming year. If our davening is genuine on Hoshana Rabbah, then God can still change His mind and switch an unfavorable judgment to a favorable one. This proves that we have free choice and are in control of our own destiny. As long as we want to change, God will answer our prayers.
Over the past year and a half, we may have lost sight of that. Everything seems so drab and depressing right now. Life is tough. But I’m hopeful that if enough of us sincerely pray for God to save us, salvation will come. May 5782 be our best year yet.
Dini Coopersmith, Trip Director, Speaker, reconnectiontrips.com
Hoshana Raba is the sealing of our fate for the new year. As long as a contract is not signed, both sides are not obligated to follow through with their commitment. Once we sign on the dotted line, God will commit to grant us a year of blessing and bounty.
As a result the power of the day is immeasurable – it is a “Hoshana raba” – a great salvation. In the prayers we ask Hashem to save us and save us, as if we are saying, wait, I need you to save me some more, again and again because I am your child. And a child can ask for anything.
After the work of the high holidays in awe and repentance, and then in love and joy during the holiday of Sukkot, we feel that we truly are so close to God, and therefore we can keep asking God for all the blessing in the world.
Netivot Shalom brings an analogy to a prince who left home and joined a commune of coarse and lowly people and soon learned their behavior and habits and forgot his princely origins. One day the King sent his servant to check up on his son and see how he was doing. The servant asked the prince if the king can help him with anything. The prince said, “my workboots are torn, can he send me a new pair of boots?”
What a shame if we did not appreciate the incredible opportunity on Hoshana Raba to ask The King to bring us back home, crown our lives with blessing and treat us like the princes we are. Chag Sameyach!
Lt. (res) Yoni Troy
Given the whole process we go through starting in Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah, why have Hoshanah Rabah’s heaviness? Have we not done enough? We have spent 40 days of repentance, reflection and spirituality. We finally arrived at Sukkot the holiday of happiness. Yet, why do we have to bitter up the end with yet another trying day of repentance? Is this what Judaism is about, constantly feeling bad?
Judaism is goal oriented. We were all created to generate goodness in the world. Deviation from that mission triggers the need for repentance. A philosophy that does not acknowledge failure also lacks the power to create change.
Research conducted by Strava using over 800 million user-logged activities in 2019 predicts that most new-year’s resolutions fail within 19 days. This mind-boggling statistic is painfully familiar. Changing our habits is very hard.
That’s why on Hoshanah Rabah, 21 days after Rosh Hashanah, we may find ourselves discouraged. We worked so hard to repent – yet we feel like we failed.
We shouldn’t despair. Rav Kook taught that the desire to repent itself is a huge step. Any failures balance the empowered and arrogant feelings of holiness our prayers might cause within us. Instead, we find ourselves realizing our own inadequacies. That self-insight gives us no choice but to beg the Lord, our G-d, “crown this year with blessing” and “save us, save us please!”
Ultimately, on Hoshanah Rabah we recognize that without G-d’s help we are sure to fail.
David Porush, davidporush.com
On its surface, Sukkot seems like the most primitive of holidays. We wave exotic produce and live in a hut, re-living our legacy as both desert wanderers and farmers in ancient Israel.
But the many repetitions and urgency of save us – “hoshea nah” – throughout Hoshanah Rabbah signals we’re at an awesome, salvational moment in the Jewish year. Divine judgement may be sealed on Yom Kippur, but the envelope isn’t delivered until this seventh night of Sukkot. Redemption is still possible.
So we make seven circuits with the Torah, invoke all our prophets and heroes, implore God to save us from every imaginable peril to nature, and sing mystical poems, many attributed to the son of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the 2nd century. Here’s one excerpt:
“Man and beast Body, spirit and soul…. Heal with powerful rains. Elevate the thirsty earth, Suspended on nothingness.”
What a prescient vision of our forlorn planet hanging in empty space!
The supplication is for “powerful rains.” Like “Save Us!”, rain falls verbally throughout the night, evoking the next day, Shemini Atzeret, when our daily prayer for dew changes to one for rain. Its very word in Hebrew, “geshem” implies physicality itself, “gashmiyut.” It heals, sustains, and slakes our thirst for salvation. It elevates the material earth and our material being, bringing down a transcendent lesson of Sukkot: living literally inside this mitzvah reveals our physical need for metaphysical salvation.
With thanks to Denise Berger, Kylie Ora Lobell, Dini Coopersmith, Yoni Troy, and David Porush.
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Read more at the Jewish Journal.
mage: Hoshana Rabba celebration with Yehuda Solomon, Moshe Storch and the Happy Minyan