The likelihood of peace
A mother poem which is also a Sukkot poem


Today is Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of the festival of Sukkot which is also a minor holiday of its own. The name means "The Great Hoshana" or "The Great 'Please Save Us'!" It's traditional, on each day of Sukkot, to make a circuit around the interior of the synagogue or around the Torah-reading table carrying our lulavim and reciting a hoshana (supplicatory prayer); on the seventh day, we make seven circuits and recite seven hoshanot.

R' Shlomo Carlebach singing a wordless niggun on Hoshana Rabbah.

My teacher Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has written a set of contemporary poetic hoshanot in English. Reb Arthur Waskow notes that:

These Hoshanot in English by Reb Zalman follow the model of the traditional Hebrew Hoshanot, which are aimed at the protection and healing of the earth from locusts, drought, etc. These English versions do so not only in the line-by-line meaning, but also by celebrating, day by day, the aspects of the universe that (according to the first chapter of Genesis) were created on each of the original seven days. They also draw on the alphabetical pattern of the traditional Hebrew Hoshanot.

Here's how they begin:

Hosha'na for the sake of
the Aura of life
the Beams of Light
the Clearness of Light
the Dynamics of Light
the Effulgence of Light
the diFfraction of light
the Glory of light
the Haloes of light
the Illumination of light
the Joys of sight...

Even if you're not dancing around a sanctuary with lulavim and Torah scrolls, reading Reb Zalman's hoshanot and reflecting on their meaning is a lovely observance of Hoshana Rabbah. They're online here at the Reb Zalman Legacy Project blog, and also here at the Shalom Center (with commentary from Reb Arthur below the hoshanot themselves.) Reb Zalman has also written a separate bilingual hoshana (the Hebrew is an alphabetic acrostic; the English is a translation) which is online here, and which speaks out of contrition for how we've damaged creation.

Speaking of Reb Zalman, I'm happy to be able to report that his beautiful English-language siddur (prayerbook), Sh'ma, is once again available in print. I just ordered myself a copy; if you have any interest in Jewish prayer in English, it's $10 well-spent. You can order it online here.

Tomorrow will be Shemini Atzeret, "the pause of the 8th day" -- it's the extra day of celebration tacked on at the end of the seven days of Sukkot. It's customary to recite special prayers for rain on that day; last year I wrote a contemporary prayer for rain to be recited on Shemini Atzeret. If you're interested, you can find it here.