Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Sukkot 5761/ 14-21 October 2000
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's
International Center for Jewish Identity.
Prepared for Internet
Publication by the Center for IT & IS Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Sukkot 5761/ 14-21 October 2000
Hoshanah Rabbah as a Day of Judgment
Prof. Yosef Tavori
Department of Talmud
Rabbah, the last day of the festival of Sukkot, is
considered a day of judgment. According to the Zohar,
although one is
judged on the Day of Atonement, that verdict is not delivered until the last day
of Sukkot, and until then a person may still repent (Zohar
142a). However, according to the
the day on which the verdict is delivered is actually Shemini
Atzeret, the final day of the festival, and not Hoshanah
day before). Hesed le-Avraham
explains away the contradiction as
follows-- the last chance to change one's judgment is actually Hoshanah
Rabbah; whoever has not yet repented by then has his verdict handed down on
The sense of judgment on Hoshanah
Rabbah was so powerful that the
day accrued many customs associated with the Days of Awe. According to the
author of Knesset ha-Gedolah
, in the Mahzor
Romania it was customary to add special High Holy Days passages, such as
, "Remember us for life" to the text of the
for Shemini Atzeret. Some Mahzors
already lent expression
to the special status of Hoshanah Rabbah in the High Holy Days prayer
, having the following version: "On Rosh ha-Shanah
judgment is made, and on Yom Kippur it is written, and on Hoshanah Rabbah it is
In the works of the Sages (Mishna, Midrash, Talmud) there is no mention of
Hoshanah Rabbah as a day of judgment. Sukkot after all is not part of the High
Holy Days, but belongs to the three pilgrimage festivals. But the proximity of
the holiday to the Days of Judgment creates the feeling that all the holidays
are part of a whole. In modern Israel, beginning with the month of Elul, the
Hebrew phrase "after the holidays" le-ahar ha-haggim is used
to refer to the period that draws to a close after Sukkot. Returning to the
ancient sources, the teachings regarding the sacrifices to be offered on the
holidays hints that the Days of Judgment and Shemini Atzeret are in some way
related, for their sacrificial offerings are equal.
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)
The clear connection that the Sages see between the High Holy Days and the
festival of Sukkot is not a continuation of the awe and trepidation in the face
of judgment, but a connection of joy expressing the assurance that the judgment
will be for the best.
There is another aspect of Sukkot, however, which rates it among the most
austere days of judgment. The Mishnah states that Rosh ha-Shanah is the day of
judgment on which all mortals pass before the Lord as
but the Day of Atonement is
not mentioned in the Mishnah as belonging to this system. Yom
is mentioned in the Mishnah because of the expiation
) on this day, both expiation of the Temple's impurity and
expiation of the people sins; but it is not mentioned as marking a stage in the
legal process. The same cannot be said of other tannaitic writings: there we
find the Day of Atonement playing a role in the system of judgment, with the
Sages disagreeing over this point:
Everything is judged on Rosh ha-Shanah, and the verdict is sealed on the
Day of Atonement, according to Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Judah says everything is
judged on Rosh ha-Shanah, and each and every verdict is sealed at its
appropriate time: on Passover, the verdict for the grain crop; on Atzeret (the
Feast of Weeks), the verdict for fruits; on Sukkot, the verdict for water; and
the verdict for people is sealed on the Day of Atonement. (Tosefta
Rosh ha-Shanah 1:13, p. 308).
Here we see the legal process divided into stages -- beginning with
judgment and concluding with the verdict being delivered. According to the
order in the Tosefta, R. Judah's system seems to be a development
of R. Meir's approach. R. Meir did not relate to the judgment of the
grain crop, or the fruit trees, or the rainfall, but his remarks imply that
these things are included in the legal process that begins on Rosh ha-Shanah and
culminates on Yom Kippur. Apparently Yom Kippur is considered a fitting date
for finalizing the judgment of human beings because it is a day of atonement.
R. Judah, however, stated that everything has its own date for finalizing its
judgment, name the time close to its season: Passover is a critical season for
grain crops, Shavuot for fruits, and Sukkot, the beginning of the rainy
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
set for the Sabbath before Sukkot.
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. In view of the severe drought we suffered two years
ago we ought to be in awe of judgment being passed concerning this year's
rain. May it be G-d's will to bless us with a good year with plentiful
Cf. Bezalel Landau, "Hoshanah
74 (Sukkot eve, 1963), pp. 30-31. Also cf.
, Inyan Sukkot
, interpretation 6.
Mentioned by Berliner in his notes on
. Cf. R. Menahem Rekanati's commentary on the Torah,
Levush Or Yekarot
, Parshat Shelah
. Also cf. Landau, loc.
, p. 32.
, sometimes written
. For interpretations of this obscure expression, cf. Y.
Tavori, Mo'adei Yisrael be-Tekufat ha-Mishnah ve-ha-Talmud
Jerusalem 1997, p. 217, n. 10.
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