Wednesday is the holiday of Hoshana Rabba, an obscure and little-recognized moment in the Jewish calendar. Few people are aware that it is one of the holiest days of the year — a day akin to Yom Kippur. It is the last day of Sukkot and it is the day on which the land of Israel is judged for water.
On one hand, the idea of having a Day of Judgment seems odd at this time of year. After all, we have just emerged from Yom Kippur, so why do we need a judgment day? On the other hand, if we suppose that the holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot all go together, it would seem appropriate that Sukkot have some element of judgment on it as well. This could be (one of the) theme(s) that binds together all these holidays in the month of Tishrei.
In fact, it is clearly stated already in the Mishna (Rosh Hashana 1:2) that Sukkot is one of the four judgment days during the year. Our tradition teaches us that it this the last day of the holiday on which the decree for the amount of rainfall in Israel is handed down each year. Water shortage is one of the most acute issues facing modern day Israel and her Jews and we should pray for her to receive an abundant share this year so that Israel can thrive.
In the mystical tradition, Hoshana Rabba is known as siyuma d?dina, the end of the judgment. You may have thought that Yom Kippur was the final act of din (judgment) this month, but in fact it is this day that is the denouement.
I found a thrilling and tantalizing connection to judgment on this day in the Sha?ar ha-Kollel, an exposition on prayer and Halachic practice written by the founder of Lubavitch Hasidism, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi.
Rosh Hashana ? the first of Tishrei — represents the judgment of individual human beings and of mankind. Since man and woman were created on the sixth day of creation, our tradition teaches that the world itself was created six days before Rosh Hashana, the 25th day of Elul.
The Rabbis counted the generations carefully from the creation of the world until the giving of the Torah and found that the Torah mentions 26 generations from Adam to Moses.
Rabbi Liadi (known as the Ba?al ha-Tanya) notes that the day of Hoshana Rabba is precisely 26 days since the day of the creation of the world. In other words, each day of this time period (from the anniversary of creation until Hoshana Rabba) represents a generation from creation to Torah.
We believe ? and this is what we are celebrating on the joyous holiday of Simchat Torah ? that the Torah is the instrument that sanctifies and justifies the act of God?s creation of the world. We take great joy in being partners with God in the receiving and keeping of the Torah. The judgment day of Hoshana Rabba sets the stage for this by representing the final moment in the transition from a non-Torah world to a Torah-suffused world. Chag sameach!