Hoshana Rabbah means “Great Salvation” or “Great Supplication,” and is the seventh and final day of Sukkot. It is both a joyous and solemn day.
On Rosh Hashanah, our future for the coming year is determined. On Yom Kippur, our future for the coming year is sealed. On Hoshana Rabba, we are given the final verdict for the outcome of the New Year.
On Hoshana Rabba, all seven Hoshanot prayers are recited, and instead of circling one Torah scroll one time (as in the previous six days of Sukkot), all of the Torah scrolls are taken out of the Ark in the synagogue and circled seven times: The Torah scrolls are brought to the bimah (table in a synagogue from which the Torah is read), and each is held by a member of the congregation. The rest of the congregation then circles the bimah seven times while holding the Four Species and reciting the seven Hoshanot prayers. “Seven” symbolizes “completion.” (For more information, please see the Sukkot page.)
These seven encirclements correspond to the seven words in Psalm 26:6—
er-chatz b’ni-ka-yon ka-pai va-a-so-v’vah et–miz-ba-cha-kha A-do-nai
I will wash my hands in purity and circle around Your altar, O LORD
They also remind us of Joshua’s seven encirclements around Jericho with the Ark of the Covenant, after which the walls of the city fell down. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew name Yehoshua (Joshua) shares the same root as the word hoshana.
What’s more is that in a Jewish wedding, the bride circles her groom seven times under the chuppah (wedding canopy). In fact, the sukkah is symbolic of the chuppah, as Sukkot is the marriage between the Jewish people and God.
At the conclusion of the hakafot (“encirclement”) ceremony of Sukkot, a bundle of willows is taken in hand and beaten on the ground so that some of the leaves fall off. This is a symbolic prayer for rain, in which the falling leaves symbolize the much-needed rain for the season.
Another custom is to stay up all night and study the Torah on the eve of Hoshana Rabbah.
Hoshana Rabbah is a one-day observance which begins the evening of October 19th this year and ends the evening of the 20th (Tishrei 21 on the Hebrew calendar).
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