Hoshana: Beseeching God

A unique aspect of the Sukkot service

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Making a circuit around the reading desk on Sukkot while each person holds the Four Species in his hands has its origin in the Temple service, as recorded in the Mishnah: "It was customary to make one procession around the altar on each day of Sukkot,and seven on the seventh day" [Sukkah 4:5]. The priests carried the palm branches or willows in their hands. The entire ceremony is to demonstrate rejoicing and gratitude for a blessed and fruitful year. Moreover, it serves to tear down the iron wall that separates us from our Father in Heaven, as the wall of Jericho was encompassed "and the wall fell down flat" (Joshua 6). Furthermore, the seven circuits correspond to the seven words in the verse Erhatz benikayon kapoy, va'asovevah et mizbahakha-Hashem--"I wash my hands in purity and circle around Your altar, O Lord" (Psalms 26:6).

In the Ashkenazic tradition the procession takes place at the completion of the Musaf  [additional] service, immediately before the Shaliach Tzibbur's recitation of Kaddish. This is in keeping with the procedure followed in the Temple, when the procession occurred after completing the Musaf offering. Israeli, Syrian, Turkish, Egyptian, and Hasidic Sephardim follow the Ari, who prescribed that the procession take place in Shaharit [morning service] immediately after Hallel, so that the Lulav ritual receive an impressive finale. The rationale projected for reciting Hoshanot in Shaharit is that since one is holding the Lulav in hand at Hallel, why not make the circuit at the same time? Mitzvah ba'ah leyadkha al tahmitzenah ("a religious act in hand should not become sour by postponement"). London-Amsterdam Sephardim as well as Spanish-Portuguese Sephardim recite the Hoshanot after Musaf.

In the Sephardic tradition Hoshanot are introduced with the verse or verses, "I will wash my hands in innocence and circle around Your altar, O Lord" (Psalms 26:6); "to proclaim thanksgiving in a loud voice and to recount all Your wondrous deeds" (Psalms 26:7).18 "I wash my hands" hints at the Lulav that was picked by hand; "and circle around Your altar" alludes to the circuits made with the Lulav in the Temple; "to proclaim thanksgiving in a loud voice" hints at "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good" (Psalms 136:1); "and to recount all Your wondrous deeds" alludes to what we seek before Him in order to reach the moment of salvation.

The Yalkut interprets the first part of the verse--"I wash my hands in innocence"--to mean that the Lulav was acquired through purchase and not through theft, as written: ulekahtem lakhem, "You shall acquire for yourself (legitimately) on the first day of Sukkot"(Leviticus 23:30).

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Cantor Macy Nulman is co-founder of the Cantorial Council of America and former director of the Philip and Sarah Belz School of Jewish Music at Yeshiva University.?He is the author of numerous books and articles an Jewish liturgy and music education.