Each time we engage in this unique custom of the prophets, we step into a transformative spiritual realm crafted by prophets for our collective betterment. * On the Hayom Yom entry for 18 Tishrei.
In addition to dwelling in a sukkah and taking the Four Kinds (lulav, etrog, willow, and myrtle), another unique custom during Sukkot in Temple times was for the priests to place willow branches alongside the altar, circle it, and recite prayers seeking divine mercy and blessings. This act manifested the collective longing for spiritual and material abundance.
Hosha'anas, also known as Hoshanot, is a significant tradition observed during the Jewish festival of Sukkot. Derived from the Hebrew words "hosha na," which means "bring us salvation, please," Hosha'anas are special prayers recited each day of Sukkot while holding the lulav and etrog.
After the destruction of the Temple, this custom evolved. Today, Jews worldwide circle a Torah scroll held near the bimah (Torah reading table), which represents the spiritual heart of the community and serves as a substitute for the Temple's altar.
The Hayom Yom for 18 Tishrei introduces us to the tradition of reciting special prayers during the festival of Sukkot, a tradition is distinguished as a "custom of the prophets." This categorization invites us to delve into its profound spiritual implications, recognizing these special prayers as a catalyst for personal and communal spiritual evolution.
Jewish tradition encompasses various levels of religious customs. The Tur, in Orach Chaim 660, specifically designates these special prayers as a custom of the prophets. This isn’t just an honorary title; it signifies a practice designed to facilitate spiritual and ethical growth. As stated in Tractate Shabbat 23b of the Talmud: “One must light [the Shabbat candles] while it is yet day,” indicating that lighting Shabbat candles earlier than required infuses an extra layer of sanctity into Shabbat. Similarly, some maintain that wearing tefillin on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate festival days), mentioned in Tractate Menachot 36b, is also considered a custom of the prophets. Both customs exemplify prophetic traditions intended to draw us closer to God.
The term “customs of the prophets” refers to practices that have been handed down from the prophets themselves. These customs hold a special place within Jewish tradition due to their prophetic origins and are considered to have a higher spiritual significance. They are seen as more than just rituals; they are viewed as strategic tools for spiritual and ethical elevation.
The concept of customs of the prophets is deeply rooted in Jewish history and tradition. The Prophets were key figures in ancient Israel who were chosen by God to guide the people and deliver His messages. They played crucial roles in shaping the religious, moral, and social life of the Jewish people.
The customs that originated from these prophets, therefore, carry a profound spiritual weight. They are seen as divinely inspired practices meant to guide individuals and communities towards greater spiritual growth and ethical conduct.
Customs of the prophets play a significant role in Jewish life. It serves as a bridge between the divine wisdom of the prophets and the everyday practices of Jewish individuals and communities. These customs provide a framework for living out the teachings of the prophets in practical ways.
For instance, the custom of reciting special prayers during Sukkot is not merely a ritualistic exercise; it’s an opportunity to deepen one’s relationship with God, refine ethical behavior, and enhance community welfare. Each time Jews engage in this unique custom of the prophets, they step into a transformative spiritual realm crafted by prophets for collective betterment.
Moreover, these customs also serve as reminders of the enduring relevance of prophetic wisdom. They underscore the timeless nature of prophetic teachings and their applicability to contemporary life.
Upon closer examination, we find that the structure of these special prayers is intricately designed to guide practitioners on a transformative spiritual journey. Composed in an alphabetical acrostic, each letter serves as a stepping stone leading us deeper into our collective spiritual consciousness.
HOSHANA RABBAH: THE PINNACLE OF URGENCY AND FINALITY
All these elements converge on Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot. It is on this day that decrees written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur are finalized. The circling of the bimah seven times and heightened recitations convey not only urgency but also finality—culminating in the transformative energy inherent in this prophetic custom.
After completing these special prayers on Hoshana Rabbah, each person takes a bundle of five willow branches and beats it on the ground five times. This custom dates back to ancient times; it was instituted by the final three prophets—Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—in c. 3440 (c. 360 BCE). Kabbalistic sources teach that there are five supernal levels of severity, which are “sweetened” or tempered when we strike these five willows.
NIGHT LEARNING: AN AUSPICIOUS OBSERVANCE
In consideration of Hoshana Rabbah’s auspiciousness, it is customary in many communities to stay awake all night reading portions of Scripture. Some read Deuteronomy during the first half of the night and Psalms following midnight. In some synagogues, sweet apples are distributed to congregants to be eaten dipped in honey while reading Psalms, reminiscent of Rosh Hashanah’s first night.
In conclusion, reciting these special prayers is an opportunity to deepen our relationship with God, refine our ethical behavior, and enhance our community’s welfare. Each time we engage in this unique custom of the prophets, we step into a transformative spiritual realm crafted by prophets for our collective betterment. Therefore, as we approach this sacred practice, let’s do so with mindfulness and intentionality it deserves—fully embracing its transformative potential.