[Reposted from last year. CS]
On Hoshana Rabbah the chazan or the sheliach tzibbur dons a white kitl as he does on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur… The Zohar on Vayehi 120a and Terumah 142a tells us that that while we are all judged on Yom Kippur the verdict is not handed down until Shemini Atzeret, but our last chance to do tshuvah is on Hoshana Rabboh…
At the end of each of the seven rounds of circling the bet haknesset we stop to hear the blowing of the shofar… This is not one of the Days of Awe yet there are tremendous similarities in the ritual. CHaZa”L never referred to this day as being a Day of Judgment, yet there is a strong hint to back up the Zohar‘s assertion in the fact that in the days of the Temple the sacrifices corresponding to the Days of Judgment and Shmini Atzeret were the same. Some Mahzorim attested to the special status of Hoshana Rabbah in the High Holy Days prayer U-netaneh Tokef, having the following version: “On Rosh ha-Shanah judgment is made, and on Yom Kippur it is written, and on Hoshanah Rabbah it is sealed.” In Romania it was customary to add some other Yamim Nora’im prayers as well to the Amidah for Shemini Atzeret.
Professor Yosef Tabori from Bar-Ilan University’s Talmud Department tells us:
Perhaps the closest connection drawn between the Yamim Noraim and Sukkot is found in the motif of the lulav. In antiquity, waving a branch on high was considered a sign of victory. The Sages interpreted our waving of the lulav on Sukkot as signifying the victory of the Jews over Satan on the Days of Judgment that precede the festival. They interpreted the words “delights are ever in Your right hand” (Ps. 16:11) as indicating that a person holding the Four Kinds in his right hand is showing that he emerged victorious on the Day of Judgment (Vayyiqra Rabbah 30.2). One of the earlier sources describing the special status of Hoshanah Rabbah in the synagogue uses this victory imagery:
When Hoshanah Rabbah comes they take willows, and make seven circuits around the synagogue, while the Hazzan of the synagogue stands like an angel of G-d, holding a Torah scroll in his arms as the people march around him as around the altar. For thus our Rabbis taught: every day it was customary to circle the altar reciting, “Please, O Lord, deliver us; please, O Lord, bring success,” and on the seventh day they would march around seven times, as King David said explicitly, as it is written, “I wash my hands in innocence, and walk around Your altar” (Ps. 26:6). Immediately the ministering angels rejoice and proclaim, “the people of Israel are victorious.” (Midrash Tehillim, Buber ed., 17.5)
[..]Thus, the entire period between Rosh ha-Shanah and the last day of Sukkot is a period during which one can still affect the verdict on rain for the better. According to a tradition ascribed to Rabbenu Tam, those who insist on reading the haftarah of Shuvah Yisrael on the Sabbath between Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur are making a mistake, since this haftarah was set for the Sabbath before Sukkot. The reason is that “Shuvah (Hosea 14:2-10) is directed towards praying for rain, since we conclude [the haftara] with a passage from Joel [the reading, Joel 2:15-27, sounds like an assemblage for prayers for rain and includes the verse “For He has given you the early rain in kindness“] and on Sukkot judgment is passed for the rain, and they are proclaimed before the judges[mentioned in Joel 2:16]” (Mahzor Vitri, p. 224).
In conclusion, even though we are especially enjoined to rejoice during the festival of Sukkot, we must not forget that we are in the process of being judged concerning the rain.
I pray that each one of us has indeed emerged victorious, may this year be one blessed with everything each of us truly needs. May it be a year of health, prosperity, and happiness; may it be a year with no tears, except for tears of joy. May this be the year when peace breaks out triumphant both on a global as well as on each individual’s level!