Today - Friday - is Hoshana Rabba, the last day of the holiday of Succot and one of the most mysterious days on the Jewish calendar. Mysterious, that is, because so few people seem to grasp its significance or appreciate its ritual.
Take a peek into any synagogue this morning, and you will witness quite a scene, as a line of worshippers, each one bearing the traditional Four Species in his hands, encircles the podium seven times to recall the rite that was performed in the Temple long ago.
The solemnity of the procession quickly gives way to a spirited outburst, as those present each take a bundle of willows and beat them on the floor. Leaves fly off the branches, until the sound of swatting reaches a crescendo that fills the room.
It is, admittedly, quite a sight, not one you would ordinarily associate with a house of worship. Grown men thrashing a bunch of twigs on the floor, making a ruckus as well as a mess. What could this possibly have to do with life in a modern Jewish state?
The answer, in fact, is quite a lot. For Hoshana Rabba contains within it a message that couldn’t be more timely for Israel in its current plight.
For it is on this day, according to tradition, that our fate is at last sealed for the coming year, with the decrees issued on Yom Kippur receiving their final Divine stamp of approval before being sent out, as it were.
Thus, even after all the fasting and prayers of the Day of Atonement, we are still given one more chance on Hoshana Rabba, one last opportunity to correct our mistakes and brighten our future.
Israel now stands at just such a moment. After the past several years of Palestinian terrorism, which shows no signs of abating, the country must choose to either throw up its arms in despair and flee, or stand tall and fight the terrorists.
We need to stop running circles around ourselves until our heads are spinning and we no longer know what to do, which is what seems to be the case with our present Prime Minister. Earlier this year, he was declaring that Israel would have to withdraw unilaterally from much of Judea and Samaria, and now he says that he wants to negotiate a deal with the terrorists. He promised to return kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was abducted by the Palestinians back in July, but has essentially failed to do so.
By choosing a particular path and sticking to it, standing firm and fighting terror, Israel can eventually prevail. By circling the podium seven times in the synagogue on Hoshana Rabba, and following the same route around it again and again and again, we are reminding ourselves of just that, for only through persistence and tenacity, and a good deal of faith, can we possibly overcome the challenges that we face.
And while the taking of the willows which follows has deep mystical significance to it, I would also like to think that there is a far simpler message at work here: the Jewish people refuse to be “weeping willows” any more.
We are here to take our fate into our own hands, and to strike away not only the tears, but at those who cause them as well. May it happen soon, with G-d's help.
Chag Sameach - have a happy holiday.