יום שישי, אוקטובר 13, 2006
Rain on Hoshanah Rabbah
The calendar hangs above my computer, so it's easy to go to the 'net and find out what the meaning of those Hebrew words on a given day is.
13 October is Hoshana Rabba, the seventh day of Sukkot. Given my own interest in agriculture (with many varieties of fruit trees that I tend whenever I can), Sukkot is an especially significant festival to me. Sitting in the sukka for the service last Shabbat, taking in the smells of the (California native) palm fronds that covered the wood frame and that let in filtered sunlight, was a beautiful experience.
But what is Hoshana Rabba? From My Jewish Learning,
According to the Mishnah (Sukkah 4: 5), in Temple times, on the festival of Tabernacles, huge willow branches were placed around the altar and a circuit was made around the altar while the worshippers recited: 'Hoshanah' ('O Lord, deliver us') (Psalms 118: 25). On the basis of this Temple practice, it became the custom on Tabernacles for the worshippers to hold the four species (the palm branch, the etrog [citron], the willows, and the myrtles), and make a circuit around the Bimah [pulpit], while reciting Hoshanah hymns in which God is entreated to deliver His people, especially from famine and drought, since Tabernacles is the festival on which the divine judgment for rain is made.
And guess what? Today or tonight we should be getting our first measurable rainfall of the season. We've had only a few sprinkles so far, and the bulk of the rain may come after sundown. (Our climate is 'Mediterranean' like Israel's, though today's weather in Israel is more like the 'Santa Anas' that we sometimes get around now: It was in the 90s in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but barely 70 here at its peak.)
The Velveteen Rabbi adds:
Another [ritual] involves greenery: after the reading of a set of piyyutim (liturgical poems), willow branches are beaten against the ground until their leaves come off. I like to read this as a kind of embodied prayer for rain -- the leaves fall like raindrops, symbolizing the sustenance we hope for in the year to come.
At a deeper level,
Some see Hoshanah Rabbah as the culmination of the holiday season that began with Rosh Hashanah, and regard today as the day when judgement is finally passed on who we are and who we aim to be.
The Velveteen Rabbi concludes with what she calls an extemporaneous holiday prayer:
Source of all that is! Help us tap into Your sustenance in the coming year. Shower us with mayimei chayyim, living waters, in all four worlds. In the world of actions and physicality, give us real water to irrigate with and to drink. In the world of emotions, let our hearts move us as mighty currents move the seas. In the world of thought, let our minds be as clean and clear as the purest waters. And in the world of essence, let us truly know ourselves as beings mostly made of water, sustained by Your ineffable wellspring in all that we do.
And let us say, amein.
(Her references in the prayer to "four worlds" and "made of water" contain links to explanatory pages. I highly recommend her blog, and she has another terrific post on Sukkot that is well worth a read: "Me'or Eynayim on the hidden meaning of Sukkot")
This has been an especially interesting year in which to experience my first High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah began this year on Shabbat, which was also the precise day of the autumnal equinox. That meant that the first day of Sukkot was also on Shabbat. We had a very light brief rain shower the Friday afternoon before Sukkot (not enough to measure in the rain gauge) and then it was perfectly clear and cool for the Erev Sukkot service, allowing our full appreciation of the full moon. And now rain is coming as Sukkot, and Hoshanah Rabbah, come to a close.