Raboyseyee and Raboyseyettes:
We’re in the home stretch of Yomim Toivim (Holidays) and by the time we return to our regular schedules this coming Wednesday (Tuesday for those living and most spending Succois in Israel), many of you will have, during the holy month of Tishray, which contains four Jewish holidays, consumed an overabundance of challah, kugil, herring, scotch, kichel and dessert. Many of you are already wearing your fat suits, spanx and anything else in a desperate attempt to look epes a shtikel thinner than you really are. Many are making promises you have no shot of keeping about joining the gym and losing the pounds piled on eating like chazerrim. Ober before we begin the last legs of this festive Yom Tov which includes Shmini Atzeres, a day when, in addition to the regular loshoin horo we speak in Shul, we also discuss and argue about whether or not we are commanded to eat in the succah or not, and Simchas Toirah, a day when we celebrate the completing of the Toirah reading cycle, we have to get by Hoisana Rabba. What is it, how do we do it, why do we do it, and what do we do? But first….
If you thought your fate was sealed on Yoim Kippur and that since you’re still alive and kicking, the RBSO must have forgiven your multitude of chatoim (pack of sins), wake up, smell the coffee and welcome to Hoishana Rabba. We are taught that Hoishana Rabba is the last chance we have to somehow appease the RBSO. Though not mentioned in the heylige Toirah by name, it appears that many generations back, some rabbis decided that we needed one last day and one last opportunity to ask the RBSO for forgiveness before sentences decreed on Yom Kippur would be executed. In other words: our good rabbis got us an extension, and we have one last chance to have the RBSO tear up the decree. And after klapping (beating and banging) your chests kimat (nearly) 500 times on Yoim Kippur, on this day, you get to bang one more time, if you chap. Can banging an innocent Hoishana (willow) save your life? Lommer lernin epes (learn something) about this special day we call Hoishana Rabba.
On Hoishana Rabba, we are commanded to grab five tightly wound willows and perform some sadistic act, one that many of my early Rebbes practiced all year with wood, sometimes their own, if you chap. On this day we pay but $5-10 dollars for this thrill, during the year this thrill can run $150 for a 30 minute session.
First the facts:
1-Hoishana Rabbah is the seventh and last day of Sukkois. Is that emes? Not according to all, and soon, space permitting, we’ll check in on this machloikes (argument).
2- There is no mention of this day in the heylige Toirah.
3- Hoishana Rabbah is known as the day of the final sealing of judgment which began on Rosh Hashannah: Hoishanna Rabbah is somewhat similar to Yom Kippur.
4. Hoishana Rabbah is one of the most interesting and lofty days of the year. On one hand it is a regular weekday, part of chol hamoed (intermediate days) of Sukkois. On the other hand it’s a Holiday unto itself.
5- It has its source in the traditions of the prophets.
Where did it come from, who invented it and decided to add it to our calendar? Says the heylige Mishnah (Sukkah 4:5): the custom, way back in the days of the Beis Hamikdash (Temple), was to circle the Mizbayach with large willow branches, one time on each day of Sukkois and seven times on the seventh day. So too we circle the Bimah reciting Hoishanis once daily during each day of Sukkos and seven Hoishanos on the Seventh day. It’s mashma (appears then) that Hoishana Rabba is aptly named because more hoishanis (Hosannas) are recited on this day than all the previous days of the holiday. Shoin. On this day, instead of one clumsy attempt at circling the bimah, while holding our lulavim and esrogim in one hand and juggling awkwardly the siddur in the other, we do this seven times.
The highlight of the morning is the klapping (banging) of the Hoishanis, a custom that even the veyber and kinderlach (women and children) perform; seemingly a good hoishana bang is enjoyed by all, if you chap.
Exactly how this custom of Hoishana banging, of beating silly and into submission the innocent hoisanhis for which we just paid between $5 and 10, seemingly atones for our sins, ver veyst. And as one would expect to hear, there are at least four different opinions on when one should bang the hoishana; timing, as always in these matters, seems to be critical, if you chap.
Some bang immediately before the final Kaddish, some in the middle of Kaddish before Tiskabel, and some after the end of Kaddish, which was the Minhag of the Arizal and is quoted by the Baer Haitiv. Those who want special consideration, begin the banging the night before, if you chap. Oisvorfs klapp away whenever the opportunity presents.
How much banging is in order? Nu, again this depends on who you ask but here the most popular: Some say that one is to bang two or three times, on the floor or on vessels. Not bad for $5, if you chap. Says the Arizal: we are to bang specifically on the floor five times. This signifies that we are ‘burying’ the judgment. And, says the Ben Ish Chai: the banging surface must be specifically unpaved, virgin earth. Seemingly virgin earth is better, if you chap. Not all agree, and there appears to be some advantage to banging on vessels for they cause the leaves to fall off, which symbolizes shredding of the disastrous decrees. Say the Pri Megadim and the Mishna Berura: banging should follow the Arizal’s recommendation: one should bang to the floor and to continue banging on vessels until some of the leaves fall off. Too much banging is avada not recommended and, says the Chaya Odom: continuous banging until all the leaves fall off is childish gleeful play.
Having vented our frustrations on the poor willows and having performed what appears to be an ancient sadomasochistic act with hoishanis now behind us, we feel mamish givaldig, relieved and ready to watch the Giants take on Cleveland at 1:00. And in a last strange custom the Oisvorfer never chapped, instead of discarding the Hoishanis as we do with other things we just klapped, we throw the beaten Arovois (5 willows tied together) on top of the Oron Koidesh which houses the heylige Toira(s). Does all this make sense? Ver veyst? Veyter…
And as Hoishana Rabba comes to an end, the yom tov of Shimi Atzeres begins, and because many of you already forgot what the Oisvorfer wrote last year about these last two days of the extended Succos holiday, here then is a shtikel chazora (review) from last year’s edition. The Oisvorfer repeating his Toirah? Why not? Tonight, as many of you Oisviorfs should know is Mishneh Toirah, the night we repeat the entire Sefer Devorim (Deuteronomy,) and if you skipped shul one or more shabbosim, nebech, tonight is your opportunity to make up the laining, chap arayn and participate in this great minhag (custom).
As we approach the Yom Tov of Shmini Atzeres (SA), mir darfin tzu gidenkin (it’s important to remember) that we have a minhag avoisaynu beyodanu (a custom passed down thru the generations) to discuss, argue, and even fight about one particular topic: is Shmini Atzeres the 8th day of Succois or is it a standalone holiday? Does shmini mean eighth as its name seems to imply? If yes, maybe it’s not Succois, after all we know that Succois is but seven days. Or, though it’s taka the 8th day, it’s still somehow Succois and we must follow the Succois rules. Le’my nafka mino (what’s the difference?) Either way, it’s Yom Tov, either way we’re back in Shul. And either way, just in case you’re still hungry or haven’t gained enough weight since Succois began, we get to have at least four more helpings of challah and kugil: Gevald (OMG)!!
Here in golus (the Diaspora) we begin the Yoim Tov with Shmini Atzeres and of course we argue and discuss with each other as to what it is. Is it a separate holiday or is it Succois? Do we eat in the Sukkah or indoors? As expected, the Big Gaon and the Son of a Gaon (both mythical figures) exploded over this issue in a famous machloikes (discussion where people argue loudly and with emotion.) The big Goan stated emphatically that of course it’s Succois, while the Sun of a Gaon says farkert (opposite.) Do we accept invitations if our minhag (custom) is to eat outdoors but your host holds farkert? The Gaon states that if a person whose minhag it is to eat in the house invites a family for a meal whose minhag is eat in the sukkah, and causes chas v’sholom (heaven forbid) that person to be nichshol (violate the law)- well- that person deserves malkus (lashes) – perhaps with the hoishanis. Some say that he has to immediately present himself at a club specializing in this technique, if you chap. Others say, that he can, b’shas hadchak (if the club is closed,) allow his Rebbe to administer them. Is it or isn’t it sukkois?
What’s the maskona (conclusion?) Where do we eat our meals both on Sunday evening and again on Monday? And every year, though it’s been hashed out hundreds of times and over thousands of years, the same people ask the same questions and argue their position as if they’ve discovered some new concept in halocho. These last two days are mired in controversy; a subject the Oisvorfer knows only too well, nebech. This is the Yom Tov where everything we do seems to be the subject of much debate and varying customs. As we prepare for the most joyous of days, and what could be more joyous than the completion of yet another cycle of the heylige Toirah, a time we call זמן שמחתנו, “time of our happiness”, I began to klerr more about this strange holiday which also adds a touch of Yoim Kippur into the mix.
According to most opinions, the Yom Tov meals must be eaten in the Sukkah, but we don’t make the brocho of layshaiv b’sukkah. Why sitting in the Sukkah without making a brocho counts, nu, this I never chapped. Is eating cake in the Sukkah without a brocho also permitted? Some say that indeed we must eat in the Sukkah but we may be lenient and use a plastic tablecloth and paper dishes. Others add that the eishes chayil may wear her pundula (house-robe) in the Succah but only on the last day. Others only allow this leniency if all the children of marriageable age are already married. Some say that if the kids are engaged or at least dating seriously, this heter (leniency) can also be relied on. Others say that under no conditions may one use plastic if the Succah has a window and a neighbor can see in, even from afar. Some have the custom to be lenient on Shmini Atzeres and eat some or all of the Yoim Tov meals in the house. Is this clear or what? Not to worry: Moshiach is coming one day soon or maybe he’s coming in two days, ver veyst?
On the other hand: The Toirah says “You shall dwell in booths for seven days, every citizen of Israel shall dwell in booths —–“ (Leviticus 23:42-43). The last I counted, seven was still seven; when did seven become eight? Furthermore, the heylige Gemora (Rosh Hashono 4b) mentions that Shmini Atzeres is a separate holiday unto itself in respect to six specific halachic issues. Moreover, the heylige Gemora (Taanis 20b-31a) declares, “The eighth day is a festival in its own right.” There is, of course, a machloikes amongst the commentaries regarding what those six issues are, what else is new?
Ok chevra- let’s clarify again. Halt kup (pay attention): here are the differences between Succois and Shmini Atzeres. First: there is no more shokeling of the lulav and esrog, and as far as I’m concerned, if I can’t grab and caress my esrog and shokel the lulav, well, it’s just not Succois. Second: although some of us have our meals and recite Kiddush in the Sukkah, we no longer say the brocho to dwell in it and, as I see it, if I can’t make a brocho of leshev b’sukkah, it’s not Succois. And if it’s not Succois, then one can eat, sleep, and perhaps even get lucky indoors. It so happens that in the last 10 or so years, this last part didn’t happen, one must avada never give up hope. Case closed- no more machloikes.
And while we’re arguing about whether or not we do or don’t eat, make a brocho or not, and other such important matters, over in the holy land, they’re having an entirely different sort of argument: On street corners of Yerushalayim and in the lobbies of all the major hotels, stuffed like kishka (derma) with American and other tourists, – they’re getting into fisticuffs about whether the Americans and Europeans need to hold one or two days of Yoim Tov- oy vey!
I never quite understood this machloikes either, and as I see it it’s quite a simple issue. One can pick and choose and there are plenty of Rabbis, young and old, dead and alive, who agree with any position you pick. Says the Oisvorfer: You’re on safe ground if you hold one or two days- you’re an apikores mamish of the highest order if you elect to hold either zero or three days. Case closed! In any event- this Yoim Tov- whether you hold seven or eight days and whether you hold one or two days over in the holy land, is all about machloikes and likely money. If you hold one day in Israel, you can of course check out one day earlier and come home with a few shekels in your pocket so that you can pay the mortgage on your house. On the other hand, if you check out and leave Israel one day early, you’ll get home just in time to keep the second day here- yikes! Is it any wonder that we orthodox are a confused bunch?
Is this what Moishe Rabaynu had in mind? Were these his instructions after spending 40 days alone with the RBSO or was he suffering from heatstroke, exhaustion, sunburn and a parched throat? And were he to make a sudden appearance and set us striaight on this and other controversies, would everyone listen? Ver veyst?
A gitten Yom Tov!