Minhagim of Chodesh Tishrey - Hoshana Raba

Hoshana Raba is one of the most interesting and lofty days of the year. On one hand it is a regular weekday, part of the intermediate days of Sukkos. On the other hand it's a Holiday unto itself. A close relative of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it has it's source in the tradtions of the prophets. The day is considered to be the day of the final sealing of each persons yearly verdict.

Hoshana Rabba falls out on the 6th day of the holiday of Sukkos. Varied and different customs abound in the different Chassidic courts. The common thread is that it is a day totally given over to intense worship and service f Hashem. The day is characterized by Lulav waving, Hoshanos, and insome communities, Shofar blowing. The truth is that most Chassidim make it home just in time to eat the Chol HaMoed meal just minute before the onset of the Chag of Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah.

We'll explain just a portion of the various minhagim that are associated with the day in order to get an idea of its special holiness.

First it is necessary to add that there is a tradition that was passed down student to teacher, father to son from the Baal ShemTov, that as much as one exerts himself in the tefillos (prayers) of Hoshana Raba, Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, it will help him in his Kavanos (intention) in prayer during the rest of the year.

1) The custom is to greet your friends with the greeting (in Aramaic) "piska tava" a good note, referring to the final inscription and sealing in the book of life for the coming year.

2) The Chassidic custom is to designate this day the day of the Ushpizin (exalted guest) of David HaMelech.

3) A widespread custom is to stay awake the whole night since

a) it also a Day of Judgment

b) in honor of Simchas Torah which comes the next day

c) in memory of King David who remained awake learning Torah and singing praises to Hashem every night. (It should be mentioned that Hoshana Rabba always falls out in the same day of the year as the previous Shavuos...the Yahrzeit of David Hamelech.)

4) It so proper to prepare the willow branches at night for the mornings' Hoshana service.

5) Many will use the Mikveh at night to be able to inject extra Kedusha (holiness) into the night.

6) Some will learn Torah all night and or say Psalms or read the book of Devarim from the Sefer Torah scroll. Some will say a special Tikkun, a compendium of selections from the full spectrum of the written and oral Torah.

7) Some will wear the white Kittel (like on Yom Kippur) already from the night, and many more will put in on during the morning prayers. In almost every congregation the leader will wear the Kittel since the day is a Day of Judgment.

8) One of the reasons for reading psalms is because of the impending finalization of the judgment. As I wrote in the customs of Elul, sometimes when Tefilla (prayer) doesn't work, only Tehilla (praise i.e. psalms) is able. When reciting the book of Psalms one should say the "Yehi Ratzon" after each of the five books. If there is a minyan a Kaddish should be said as well.

9) The sefer Yesod V'Shoresh HaAvodah writes that on Hoshana Raba night, one must be extremely cautious when reciting the Tikkun and/or Tehillim, to say each word carefully and properly so that it will be a Tikkun (rectification,healing), and not a Kilkul (something destructive).

The rule is not to bite off more than you can chew. It is best to recite a little bit properly, as oppossed to a lot but carelessly.

10) The minhag of the Sefardim is to gather in family groups at home instead of in the synagogues. They read the Tikkun is turn one man after the other. There are refreshments and afterwards they eat grilled liver and lung.

(I don't know why.)

11) In the morning, just before dawn, it is customary to immerse again in the mikveh for extra holiness. Many will pray in the sunrise minyanim. One who was awake all night should wash hands again in the morning after dawn since perhaps it is the night which causes the unclean spirit to fall on the hands. (ruach raah)

12) The custom of Egyptian Jews is to do Kapparot on this morning like we do on the eve of Yom Kippur. (swinging the chicken)

13) This day is like a Festival so many will try not to do any labor until after the end of the Tefilla. They will carry only the money that will be used for Tzedakah. It is an auspicious day to increase the giving of Tzedakah. It is possible to give Tzedakah for the memory of one you will mention in the Yizkor prayer tomorrow. Then you will say ". . .that I already gave out".

14) Many will light extra candles in Shul. In Belz they take the leftovers from the Yom Kippur candles to make new ones to use on Hoshana Raba..

15) The Shacharis service reflects the dual nature of the day. The pesukei d'zimra is like a Festival, but the shacharis itself is like a week day. Many say "Shir HaMaalos Memaamakim" before the "Borchu" like during the 10 days of repentance. In general the melody of the prayers is the Rosh HaShanah/Yom Kippur melody in keeping witht he nature of the day.

16) In many congregations the additions to the Kaddish (layla u'layla, haShalom) are added, but not the additions to the Amidah.

17) The highlight of the service are the 7 circuits and the accompanying, often mystical poetry of the Hoshanas. (The ArtScroll series has a lucid explanation of them in English.) At the end we beat the 5 willow branches taken especially for this purpose on the ground. The willow, whose shape is like the mouth si the symbol that the only real strength of the Jewish peopele lies in its mouth, in the power of prayer!

18) The taking out of the Torah is like on Yom Kippur and we recite the liturgy "Hashem, Hashem". After the Tefilla it is proper for the gabbai to roll the scrolls to the middle so that they will be evenly balanced; minimizing the possibility of tearing or falling during the Simchas Torah dancing (in Israel on Thursday, outside of Israel on Friday).

19) Although there is a custom to throw the beaten willows on top of the Ark, it is most likely really disrespectful. There are a number of other more suitable customs. They can be saved to be burned in the oven which bakes the Pesach matzos, or in the fire which burns the chometz on Erev Pesach. 20) The hadassim (myrtles) can be used for Havdalah spices and the esrog made into a pomander by poking cloves into it. Esrog jam is considered a segula to insure an easy labor for the pregnant woman as she appraoches the last weeks.

21) There are those who save the lulav and esrog for a full year as a memento of the prayeres and the joy of the Holiday, and only throw them in the matzo oven the following year, 18 months later.

22) The beaten willow leaves are often saved and laminated being considered a protection while in the car or on the road in general. R' Nachman Breslaver said we learn this from the verse (Psalms 68:5), "Solu LaRochaiv Ba'aravos" (extol the One who rides over the Heavens).

23) At the meal of the day round challahs are eaten. Many Rebbes eat apples and honey, and carrots like evening of Rosh Hashanah. There is a widespread custom to eat Kreplach (Jewish ravioli, dough filled with meat), to show that the judgement (symbolized by meat) is enclothed in kindness (symbolized by the dough). It also points to the hidden Yom Tov aspect of the day.

24) Chernoybel Chassidim have the custom to say the first part of Aleynu Lshabayech backwards and forwards 7 times or at the seudah. The Apter Rav would say it before the Mincha prayer in the afternoon..

25) Some have the custom to add "Harachaman hu ychadash lanu shanah tova umetuka" into the Bircas Hamazon like on Rosh HaShanah.

26) Prepare the Yahrzeit candle and light it before the appraoching Festival of Shemeni Atzeres/Simchas Torah so as not to have to light a candle whose light is not necessary on the Festival. It you forgot, light it in a room that will benefit from the additional light.

27) It is good to immerse in the Mikveh agaim in honor the the Festival., Outside of Israel thErev Tavshilin is made.

28) It is time to say farewell to the Sukkah. (Outside of Israel tommorrow or depending on the local custom since may eat in the Sukkah the night of Shemeni Atzeres.) We eat some cake and drink L'Chayim. Some kiss the walls. In Dinov, they say farewell by giving the lulav and esrog a last shake.

29) The night after Simchas Torah many communities make Hakafos Shenios, another round of singing and dancing with the Torahs. As it is brought down, the celebrations which we make to bestow extra honor on the Torah, has aspects which are greater that then Holiday itself!!

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