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The Great Hosanna

Hoshana Rabbah (The Great Hosanna or The Numerous Hosannas) is the seventh and last day of Sukkot. As Hosanna means "Save now, I pray Thee" (Psalm 118:25), the Great Hosanna therefore means the Great Salvation.

It is so named for the fact that more Hosannas are said on this day than all the previous days of the festival. On each of the six previous days, the priests circled the altar once in a procession, singing Psalm 118:25. On the seventh day of the feast, the people circled the altar seven times. That is why the day is called Hoshana Rabbah, as the cry "Save now!" is repeated seven times.

On Hoshana Rabbah afternoon, the Jews will bring their vessels from their sukkot back into their houses in preparation for Shemini Atzeret, the following day. Its primary purpose is to to move and plant the spiritual message of the sukkot into their homes for the remainder of the year.

It was on the last day (Hoshana Rabbah), that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." John 7:37-38

According to some Jewish traditions, all people are judged on Rosh Hashanah. The righteous are given a favorable judgment. Those found wanting, but not totally evil, are given until Yom Kippur to repent. If they fail to do so, the verdict against them is written and sealed but not delivered till Hoshana Rabbah. This day, the Jews will assemble in prayer, dedication and supplication. The joy of Succoth will reach its climax. In mercy, God finds ample reason to tear up the parchments bearing the harsher sentences, and replace them with brighter verdicts. The following chart illustrates this thought:

Rosh Hashanah (Judgment Day) The judgment is rendered.
Yom Kippur The judgment is sealed.
Hoshana Rabbah The judgment is delivered.

The following morning after Hoshana Rabbah, the judgment is delivered and made known.

On Hoshana Rabbah, the Jews will beat the willow branches on the earth. Among the Four Species, the etrog is blessed with a good smell and good taste. It represents the Jews with Torah and good deeds. The palm, blessed with good taste but no scent, represents the Jews who have Torah but lack good deeds. The myrtle, blessed with an exquisite scent but no fruit, represents the Jews with good deeds but no Torah. The willow, with no taste and no smell, represents the Jews who have neither Torah nor good deeds.

The commandment is not fulfilled until we have all of the Four Species. Without any one of the four, it is incomplete. The message is this: Just as the Four Species require four different kinds of vegetation, so we need all the four different kinds of Jews, covering the entire range of people. Whoever thinks that we can ignore those Jews devoid of Torah and good deeds is wrong! Lacking the willow branch, the entire Four Species is worthless.

The significance of the willow branch on Hoshana Rabbah is not only that without it, the other three species are in serious trouble. The fact is that the entire focus of Hoshana Rabbah is exclusively on the willow branch. This is the day of the willows. On this day, the people of God will strike the willows upon the earth.

The striking of the willows bears an important truth about the lovingkindness of God. Willows grows along the banks of the river. It is at these edges where the lovingkindness of God is being confronted with His judgment. On one side, there is water which represents the love of God. On the other side, there is hard land which represents the strict justice of God. The land marks out and places limits on the water flow.

The prayer is not just for rain but for the rain to bring forth the growth of more willows. As more willows grow, the grace of God invades into the justice of God. At such moments, the willows are eye witnesses to this wonderful sight. If we desire God to show us His grace and mercy, we need to show grace and mercy to the willows, namely, those without Torah and good deeds. God knows our hearts and minds. Longsuffering, kindness and goodness are listed in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. God is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

On Hoshana Rabbah, the Jews beat the willow branches five times on the floor. The five-time beating of the willow branches symbolizes the breaking of the sin of bad-mouthing. The leaves of the willow are shaped like the lips. Therefore these twigs have the purpose of atoning for the sins of the lips. We beat them on the earth to symbolize our resolution that from now on, we will not sin with our lips again. When we do so, we are confident that no one's lips, not even Satan's (the accuser of our brethren), can harm us.