Some Laws Concerning Hoshana Rabbah

This year, 23 Tishrei, the night of Hoshana Rabbah falls out on October 22.

1. The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabbah. It is the last of the 51 days of repentance that the Jewish people were given in which their repentance will be easily accepted. Therefore, many Selichot and penitential prayers are said on this day. 
Even though a person’s verdict was written down on Rosh Hashana and signed on Yom Kippur, the verdicts are not delivered to the agents carrying them out until Hoshana Rabbah. Therefore, we pray fervently until the end of that day that we merit to receive a pitka tova, a good sentence.

2. It is a Jewish custom to remain awake the night of Hashana Rabbah and to study the entire night, preferably reading the entire Book of Deuteronomy before midnight. One doesn’t have to read it in a minyan of ten men. So as soon as it turns dark, each person should take a Book of Deuteronomy, read it and be careful to finish it before midnight (which occurs at 23:27 this year.) Some gather in the synagogue for the second half of the night to read the entire Book of Psalms and say a few Selichot and pray at sunrise.

3. If one was awake the entire night, he should wash his hands in the morning but not recite the blessing al netilat yadayim. Besides this blessing, one should recite all the morning blessings and the morning prayers. One should pray joyously and with enthusiasm to ensure he doesn’t doze off. After the Shemoneh Esreh prayer and reciting Hallel, the worshippers encircle the bima seven times and recite prayers and supplications in order that rain should fall the coming winter. These circles around the bima have the power to cause all the Jews’ enemies and haters to fall, just as Jericho fell after the Jews encircled the city seven times.

4. At the end of the prayers, we take 5 willow (aravot) branches (the custom is to tie them together but it is not necessary)  and bang them on an untiled floor five times, while saying in Aramaic: chavit chavit v’lo barich. This means “Bang it, bang it, and do not bless it.” The meaning is that we bang the willow branches but do not recite a blessing over this custom. This ancient custom goes all the way back to the times of the prophets and can soften the attribute of strict justice and cancel fearful decrees.

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King Solomon, the wisest of all men, said (Prov. 14:17): “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of intrigues is hated.”
Some people who are wronged immediately seek to take revenge. “You knocked my eye out — I’ll knock out both of your eyes!” There are also some who don’t take seek to take revenge right away. They say, “Wait, wait, revenge will come to a degree greater than you ever imagined!” They sit and plot how to take revenge for any evil done to them. 

King Solomon tries to “shake” these two types away from their fantasies.

“A quick-tempered man acts foolishly” — the one who takes revenge immediately is acting foolishly! “And a man of intrigues is hated” — and the one who plots how to take revenge is hated by everyone, both by heaven and by people!  One never profits from revenge!
So what is the proper way? Simply “Do not take revenge or bear a grudge to your fellow Jews. Love your fellow Jew as yourself, I am G-d.” That is the correct way!

When a person seeks revenge, he demonstrates that he doesn’t believe in divine providence,  because if everything was maneuvered from above, why take revenge against a human being? He was merely an emissary of divine providence. If it is necessary to punish him for his deeds, it has to be done in an acceptable way and not in a vengeful way.

In general, a person should accustom himself to saying, “Whatever G-d does is for the good.” So if it’s for the good — why take revenge?? Not only taking revenge is forbidden but even feeling that way in one’s heart.

Rabbi Dessler relates the story of a Jew who considered himself a honest, decent person, but when he died and went above, the angels welcomed him with an announcement, “Oh, here comes the murderer!” The Jews looked to his sides and tried to figure out about whom they were talking but he saw no one. He asked, “I’m a murderer? I never did one bad thing to anyone!” 

They replied, “Really? Don’t you remember on such and such a day, a person opened a store next to your store and you decided he was ruining your livelihood. You wished deep in your heart that he have a heart attack. G-d sees that your heart has the taint of murder.”
That’s why on Yom Kippur Jews say ”Forgive us for the sin that we sinned before You due to our heart’s meditations.”


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