A. The meaning of Hoshana Rabbah:
- During Sukkos we are judged regarding water [i.e. rain]. On Hoshana Rabbah, the judgment of the water is sealed. This is of significant importance to human life as human life is dependent on water.
- The Hoshana Rabbah greetings: Some are accustomed to greeting each other with Gut Yom Tov on Hoshana Rabbah. Likewise, on Hoshana Rabbah, some are accustomed to greeting each other with the blessing of Piska Tava, or a Gutten Kevittle. The Chabad custom, however, is not to do so.
- Blood test and bloodletting: One is to beware not to let blood on Hoshana Rabbah. [Thus, one is not to have a blood test done on Hoshana Rabbah, and is certainly to avoid giving a blood donation, or having other form of blood work done, unless it involves a case of danger.]
B. Aravos for Hoshanos:
- The Mitzvah: On Hoshana Rabbah, an Aravah is taken in addition to the Aravos that are bound with the Lulav. It is taken in commemoration of the Hakafos that were performed with the Aravos in the Temple, in which the Mizbeiach was encircled with the Arava branch. These Aravos are also referred to as Hoshanos.
- A blessing is not recited upon fulfilling the Mitzvah of Aravos for Hoshanos.
- Who sells the Aravos for Hoshanos? The custom is for the Shamash of the Shul to sell the Aravos, just as was the custom during Temple times.
- How many Aravos are taken: From the letter of the law it suffices to take a single willow branch for the Aravos of Hoshanos. Some were accustomed to take two Aravos. Others would take 17 Aravos attached to one branch. Nonetheless, according to Kabbalah one is to take five Aravos and so is the widespread custom of all Jewry. [The Chabad custom is to purchase a set of Hoshanos for each family member, including one’s wife and children.]
- Binding the Aravos: It is disputed amongst the Poskim as to whether one is to bind the Aravos together or if they are to remain loose. Practically, the Chabad custom is to bind the Aravos. However, they are not to be bound together with another Accordingly, some are particular to not bind them together using Lulav leaves [and rather they use another Aravah for the binding]. Practically, it is permitted to bind them together using Lulav leaves, [and so is the Chabad custom].
- How many leaves must the Aravah have? From the letter of the law, it suffices for the Aravah used for Hoshanos to contain even a single leaf throughout its entire branch. [Meaning, that even if all the leaves fell off, aside for a single leaf, it remains Kosher.] Nevertheless, it is degrading to use an Aravah with one leaf on one branch, and therefore the custom is to make beautiful Hoshanos, as the verse states “Zeh Keili Veanveihu.”
- Its length: The Aravah for Hoshanos must contain the same minimum length as the Aravos used for the Lulav [i.e. 24 cm].
- Other invalidations: The Kashrus status of the Aravah for Hoshanos follows the same laws as the Aravos used for the Lulav [with exception to if majority of its leaves have fallen off]. [Thus, it may not be stolen, must contain at least one leaf that is not dry, cannot be cut on its top. see Chapter 2 Halacha 6!]
- Using the Aravos from the Lulav for Hoshanos? It is disputed if one fulfills his obligation with using the Aravos from his Lulav. This dispute only applies if the Aravos are still bound to the Lulav. If, however, one removes the Aravos from the Lulav then it is valid according to all to use them for the Aravah of Hoshanos.
- Aravos of gentiles: Some Poskim rule that a Jew may not cut Aravos from the field of a gentile even if he received permission from the gentile. If, however, one plans to sell it or give it to another, then he may pick it. Likewise, a gentile may pick it on behalf of the Jew.
- Aravos picked on Shabbos by gentiles: If gentiles [or non-religious Jews] cut the Aravos on Shabbos, as may occur when Hoshana Rabbah on Sunday, it is nevertheless permitted to be used. Nevertheless, a Jew may not instruct a gentile to cut them on Shabbos or instruct him to have it ready by Motzei Shabbos. If one did so, then the Aravos should not be used if the matter is public knowledge and another Aravah is available.
- May one reuse someone’s Hoshanos? If there are no other Hoshanos available, one may use another person’s Hoshanos.
- May one use Aravos from a used Hoshana for his Lulav? Yes.
- The Aravos ceremony: See Halacha F!
C. The night of Hoshana Rabbah:
- The omen of the moon on the night of Hoshana Rabbah: The Rishonim record that on the night of Hoshanah Rabbah there is an omen in the shadow of the moon regarding all that will occur to oneself, or to one’s relatives, during that year. Some write that one is not to pay any attention to this matter in order not to worsen one’s Mazal. Likewise, many do not understand the matter properly and it is hence better to act with simple faith and not look into the future.
- Candles: One is to slightly increase in candles on Hoshana Raba just as is done on Yom Kippur.
- Remaining awake throughout the night: It is a custom of Jewry to remain awake throughout the entire night of Hoshana Rabbah.
- The Tikkun: One is to read the Tikun Leil Hoshana Rabbah during the night of Hoshana Rabbah. The Tikun of Hoshana Rabbah consists of reading the entire Sefer Devarim [prior to midnight], followed by reading the entire Sefer Tehilim [after midnight], and passages from the Zohar selected in the Tikun. When reading Sefer Devarim before midnight one is to read Parshas Vezos Habracha as usual. It is only to be read Shnayim Mikra Echad Targum on the day prior to Simchas Torah.
- Tehillim: After midnight the entire Tehillim is read with a Minyan while wearing a Gartel. The reading is customarily not lengthy. The Yehi Ratzon for Hoshana Rabbah, and for the rising of the moon is said after the reading of each of the five Sefarim. [Some also read the Yehi Ratzon for Yom Tov.]
- Apple dipped in honey: After the conclusion of Tehilim it is customary for the Gabbai to distribute apples which are to be dipped in honey and subsequently eaten in the Sukkah. This custom is applicable as well for Shuls which don’t have a Sukkah as each one can eat the apple in his Sukkah at home. Before eating the apple, one should wash his hands in the same way one washes for bread. This applies to any food dipped in one of the 7 liquids.
- Immersing in a Mikveh: Those who are meticulous immerse in a Mikveh before dawn. This was the custom of the Rebbe Rashab and was also followed by the Chasidim. However, many are not careful in this.
- Marital relations: Some Poskim rule that marital relations are to be avoided on the night of Hoshana Rabbah [just as it is avoided on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah] unless it is the night of Mikveh, or one has a very strong urge.
D. The day of Hoshana Rabbah:
- Abstaining from mundane activity: It is customary on Hoshana Rabbah to abstain from performing mundane activities until after leaving Shul [after Shacharis]. Some are accustomed to not even carry a wallet with them [until after leaving Shul]. Now, however, the custom in some communities is to even collect money in Shul [during Shacharis] and doing so is improper.
- The dress code-Wearing a Kittle: Some are accustomed to wear a kittle on Hoshana Rabbah just like is done on Yom Kippur. [It is not the Chabad custom to wear a Kittle on Hoshana Rabbah.]
- Tzedakah: It is proper to increase in charity on Hoshana Rabbah in order to sweeten the Gevuros.
- Shaking the Lulav: It is customary to remove the knots of the Lulav on Hoshana Rabbah. The knots are removed only from the top part of the Lulav [by the spine]. [The Chabad custom is prior to Hallel, to remove the two upper rings which are bound on the Lulav. On Hoshana Rabbah one is to increase in the shaking of the Lulav and do so with great joy.]
- Shnayim Mikra: In Eretz Yisrael, one reads Shnayim Mikra Viechad Targum on Hoshana Rabbah.
E. The morning prayers of Hoshana Rabbah:
- Adding parts to Davening: On the seventh day which is Hoshana Rabbah, it is customary [of many communities] to increase in Psalms as is done on Yom Tov. [The Chabad custom on Hoshana Rabbah is not to change from the regular order of a weekday Davening.] It is customary to increase in prayer and supplication on behalf of water. [These supplications are recited in the lengthy Hoshana prayers said on Hoshana Raba.]
- Hallel-Removing the knots of the Lulav: Prior to Hallel, one removes the two upper rings which are bound on the Lulav.
- Hoshanos: By Hoshanos, all the Sifrei Torah are removed and placed by the Bimah. One circles the Bimah 7 times with the 4 Minim each time saying the appropriate paragraph as printed in the Siddur. One does not circle the Bima holding the Aravos for Hoshanos.
- Hitting the Aravos: After finishing all the Hakafos and reciting the additional prayer of Hoshanos over water, one hits the Aravos five times on the ground. See Halacha F!
- Kaddish: It is customary to recite the Kaddish that follows Musaf in a Yom Tov tune. [This is not the witnessed Chabad practice.]
F. The Aravos ceremony:
- Holding the Lulav with the Aravos: It is disputed amongst the Poskim as to whether it is permitted to join the Aravos of Hoshanos to the Daled Minim at the time that he is fulfilling the Mitzvah of Daled Minim. Practically, it is proper to be stringent and not do so. Once the Mitzvah of Daled Minim is fulfilled by saying the blessing and shaking the Lulav and Esrog even one time, it may be joined. It may certainly be joined during the Hakafos, [as explained next regarding the widespread custom]. However, upon performing the hitting ritual of the Aravos of Hoshanos, one is to only have the Aravos in his hands [and not the Lulav]. There is, however, no invalidation to be holding onto other items during this time. [The above is according to Halacha, however, according to Kabbalah, one must be very careful to never join the Aravos to the Lulav anytime, and so is the practical directive. So is the widespread custom today in all places.]
- Hakafos: Some Poskim rule that one is not to perform the Hakafos around the Bima using the Aravos and is rather to circle it with only the Lulav just as was performed on the previous days. Practically, so is the proper directive and so is the ruling according to Kabbalah and so is the widespread custom today in all places.
- Some are accustomed to put down the Lulav and lift the Aravos for the recital of Hoshanos over water. According to the Arizal, however, it is only to be lifted after the entire Hoshanos is complete and Kaddish is recited. Practically, the Chabad custom is to do the entire Hakafos and recital of Hoshanos only with the Lulav, and to pick up the Aravos only after it is completed, when it is time for them to be hit.
- Hitting the Aravos: After finishing all the Hakafos and reciting the additional prayer of Hoshanos over water, then according to Halacha one hits the Aravos on the floor or on a vessel two or three times. However, according to Kabala, one is to hit it specifically on the floor and is to hit it five times to sweeten the five Gevuros. Some Poskim rule the Aravos must be hit hard enough for leaves to fall off. Many are thus accustomed to hit it on a chair and the like, in addition to hitting it on the ground, in order to make the leaves fall off. Others, however, negate this stating there is no need to remove any of the leaves, and on the contrary, the leaves are to remain intact throughout the five hits on the ground. Practically, the Chabad custom is to hit the Aravos five times only on the ground.
- Shaking the Aravos: Some Poskim rule one is also required to shake the Aravos. Practically, the Ashkenazi custom is to do both, to shake it and then to hit it. [The Chabad custom is not to do so, and it is hit without being shaken beforehand.]
- What to do with the Aravos after hitting them: Some Poskim rule that it is forbidden to benefit from the Aravos after it is used for the Mitzvah [for that entire day] unless one made a stipulation beforehand. It is, however, permitted to discard the Hoshanos of the Lulav [to the garbage] although some Poskim rule that the Hoshanos may not be stepped on. Some have the custom to save the Aravos which were hit on Hoshana Rabbah and use them as fuel to burn the Chametz on Erev Pesach. Others are accustomed to save them for use of fuel to bake the Matzos. [Others are accustomed to throw the Aravos on top of the Aron. Others negate this custom. The Rebbe was not accustomed to throw the Aravos on top of the Aron. Others are particular to save the Aravos as a good omen and Segula as explained next. Based on this it is proper not to burn all the Aravos on Erev Pesach in order so some are saved for the Segula.] See Halacha 7F!
- Hitting the children with the Aravos: The custom of the Chabad Rabbeim was to gently “whip” their sons with the Hoshanos branches. This included even their adult children. Children above age 18 received three light hits. Those below 18 received one more than their age. This custom is a directive to the public. One blesses the children upon doing so that they should know of no more pain throughout the year and they should have both physical and spiritual joy.
G. The Hoshana Rabbah meal:
- It is customary to hold a festive meal [abiding by the limitations to be explained] on Hoshana Rabbah, after the conclusion of the prayers.
- Customarily one dips the bread in honey. As well the custom is to eat Kreplach during the meal.
- Meal limitations: On Erev Yom Tov one is to refrain from beginning a meal [of bread] past the 10th hour of the day, which is three Zmaniyos/fluctuating hours before sunset. Snacks may be eaten throughout the day, even past the 10th hour. If one transgressed or forgot and did not eat prior to the 10th hour, then he may eat a meal past the 10th hour.
- A large feast-Seudas Mitzvah: It is forbidden to eat a large meal any time on Yom Tov unless it is a Seudas Mitzvah which its date has fallen on Erev Yom Tov. In such a case, one is to initially begin the meal prior to the 10th hour of the day and should only invite ten people besides for close relatives and the Baalei Hasimcha.
H. The Sukkah:
- Diaspora: In the Diaspora, it is an obligation to eat in the Sukkah even on Shemini Atzeres, as explained next, and hence the Sukkah must remain in its erect state.
- Eretz Yisrael: Even in Eretz Yisrael that the Mitzvah of Sukkah culminates with the start of the Holiday, one is not to take down the Sukkah until after Shemini Atzeres. There is also no need to make any changes to its structure before Shemini Atzeres, unless one plans to eat in it on Yom Tov as explained in Halacha 6B. Nevertheless, one may remove the furniture from the Sukkah starting from midday of Erev Shemini Atzeres-Simchas Torah in order to set up his home for the holiday. [Furthermore, it is implied that one is to specifically remove the furniture from his Sukkah before Simchas Torah, even if he does not need to use it at home, and so was the custom of some Gedolei Yisrael to remove the chairs and tables from the Sukkah to show that its Mitzvah has culminated.]
- Entering Sukkah for last time: In Eretz Yisrael, with the approach of sunset on the afternoon of Hoshana Rabah, one enters the Sukkah (and eats or drinks something there) to bid it farewell, but one does not recite the prayer of Yehi Ratzon.
- The psalm of Ledavid is recited daily until Hoshana Rabbah, including Hoshana Rabbah. [It is omitted starting from Shemini Atzeres.]