Hoshana rabba – send me a good note!
We come close to the end of the New Year 5772 festival. A long series of days that focus on renewal and repentance, conversion and forgiveness, openness and oneness. Evenings, mornings, days and night long after the possible state of being glad and grateful for having reached this time and even more: we participate in the extension of time! Long nights and days in which we intrude upon our own privacy to bow down or swivel on some invisible chair in order to turn to God. This is the true meaning of “conversion – teshuvahתשובה”.
There is a move: we started with the days of awe that reached their climax on Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement. Then, six days after Yom HaKippurim, we come to sit in our shelters covered with overshadowing branches to meet with historical and spiritual guests – the ushpizinאושפיזין as with friends or strangers, share about the Scripture, history, future, present, past and envision our own swinging-back to God.
That’s quite something! Because on the 21st day of new year month Tishrei, there is the Hoshana Rabbaהושנא רבה, the last praying act to be performed under the sukkah-סוכה/booth and then the feast will soon be over with some divine judgment. We are quick to be judgmental. A few seconds, minutes, chik-chak, period. We make up our minds very speedily about the others; we may be slower as regards ourselves.
God waits… it takes Him so much time to write our names into the Book of the living. We are very good at rejecting promptly anybody, i.e. usually without knowing or trying to understand anything. God is not only patient: He appraises the price of our nights and days. Say that God is wise… Thus, in the end, He has to give some signs. The great blessing is to pour some rain. Wherever they reside, the Jews pray so that God pour His rain in Eretz Israel and not in any other place. This shows the long-term fidelity of the Jewish community with this Land. And from there, the blessings reach the ends of the world.
God seems very reluctant to curse. Of course, even the most pious believer would admit that he never got any written statement showing that he is blessed or cursed for the new year! The statement is included in the Scripture and the Talmud. The Hoshana Rabbah day is the 21st day of the new year and traces back to Abraham who got the blessings for all the generations.
According to the tradition, Abraham belonged to the 21st generation after the shaping of Adam. Then, on this day, we got to the high spot to make up our minds: rejoice – go through the pangs of birth and conversion and trust in God. Because God does trust in us. Just get to the news: killings, violence, fights in words, acts, rapes, lies, corruption and still God confides in us. Oh we would love to put God into a box. The great Megillot/Scrolls of the Torah that are lodged in the “aron haqodesh-הארון הקודש / holy ark” serve to release us as each letter aims to make us free.
The 21st and last day under the sukkah is called “Hoshana Rabbah” and is thus substantial and significant. It is also called in Yiddish “a git’n kvitlא גוטן קוויטל – a good note” day. We are used to surf on the web. Jews write kvitlech or tzeltlech, “small posts/requests – קוויטלעך און צעטלעך” to their rabbis. Long lists of “notes” daily arrive at the Western Wall either by fax, emails or now mobiles (there are delightful pictures of Jews putting their mobile to the stones of the Wall allowing somebody to speak out his soul from afar. In return, God sends back the “gite kvitlechגוטע קוויטלעך”, the good judgment from heaven for a blessed year.
As they hold the “arbaa minimארבעה מינים – four species” the Jews will, on that special day, cry out: “Ana HaShem Hoshiya naאנא ה’ הושיע נא = o Lord, be merciful and save us” (Psalm 118:25). To begin with, it recalls the “hakafotהקפות – circular movements” around the town of Jericho (Joshuah 6:14-15) as well as the sprinkling of the waters in the Temple (Talmud Yoma 59a).
In the Mikdash-מקדש/Temple willow branches that require a lot of water, were put at the four corners of the altar. The seven circular goings around the altar, later , after the destruction of the Temple, the movement around the “bema or almenor” (lectern) are comparable to the shaving of the head (harvest) as in Talmud Nazir 29a or specific payment of debts in Sabbatical year (Sanhedrin 68b).
The people cry, shout and this is a “joyous moaning” combining happiness and anxious expectation of a good note well-sealed and duly sent by God. This comes out of the entrails: ”Please, save right now!” Targum Onkelos suggests that “Hoshiya-na” means “save Yourself right now!” This is an interesting matter. While they go around in circles, the Jews read a wonderful text for the Hoshana Rabbah and chant: “Ani VaHu Hoshiya-naאני והוא הושיע נא – I and He save right now!” The jewish tradition considers that this links two verses of the TaNaKH, i.e. Ezekiel 1:1 “Ani (I) betoch hagolahאני בתוך הגולה – I was amongst the exiled’ and Jeremiah 40:1: “VeHu (And He) was found in chains with all the other captives from Jerusalem and Judah who were being deported to Babylonוהוא אסור באזיקים בתוך כל-הגלות ירושלים ויהודה המגלים בבלה”.
In both verses the text refers to God, as first and third Person showing the deep connection in times of dispair as in times of hope. We may not be aware that this leads to a victory that saves God’s reign and His human creatures. As a result,we may grow: “He is my father’s God and I shall extol Himאנוהו” (in Hebrew: “Anvehu”; Exodus/Shmot 15:2).
All through our existences, we are called to make savings. This banking word does not imply that we would be God’s odd soul savings or properties under strict and limited control. In our cultures, savings mean that we would not spend or make money, profits. But when God saves us with a good one-year ticket, it is our task to increase the fruit He shares with us. I have been constantly visiting the sick for now more than 35 years. It is very strange how baby children saved from death are “deathproof”, unassailable.
This is also our own historic experience.We are good at savings, it is far more difficult to agree that we are saved. In the Gospel it is accounted: “Aha , you (Jesus), save yourself and us as well” (Luke 23:39). In his “priestly prayer”, Jesus also says to God: “All I have is Yours and Yours is mine… May they all be one, just as, Father, You are in me and I am in You” (John 17:21).
We arrive to the last days that reckon with our sense of unity. If we move around the right way and joyously show we are real menchen (human beings of good heart), who said we should die or be rejected? Exclusion is one of the worse socio-cultural tendencies. Well, Hoshana Rabba sounds like the good old “Save Our Souls” that brings the lost ones back to society.
Av Aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)