The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40-plus-year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.
The Talmud does not mention Hoshana Rabba night as representing the conclusion of the Yomim Noraim judgment period. The Hoshana Rabba Temple service was different from all other days of Sukkot. The altar was encircled seven times; a multitude of Aravot were brought; Arava overrode Shabbat, though the Talmud does not explain why.
Ramban (Parshat Shlach, Sar Tzilam Mayalayhem) refers to Hoshana Rabba as Layl HaChotem, the sealing night. Old Machzorim contain the NeTane Tokef text as on Rosh Hashana they will be judged (Yidonun), Yom Kippur they will be inscribed (Yikasevun), on Hoshana Rabba they will be sealed (Yaychaseimun).
The Zohar connects it with the judgment (Din) aspect of Rosh Hashana. Isaac, Akeidat Yitzchak is the central figure and motif on Rosh Hashana. Isaac represents Midat Gevuara (strict strength) in Kabbala. Zohar translates Akeidat Yitzchak as binding Din, represented by Isaac, surrounded by Abraham, representing Midat HaChesed, and Jacob representing Midat Tiferet or Emet. Abraham bound Isaac on the altar symbolically with Midat HaChesed, just as any person must do metaphysically when he offers himself as a Korban to sanctify Hashem. According to Zohar, Tekiat Shofar binds the strict Rosh Hashana Din. Conversely, Yom Kippur represents complete Chesed, kindness granted allowing us to repent. The verse Isaac returned and re-dug the wells that his father’s servants had dug years before. Describes the Hoshana Rabba characteristic represented by Isaac reviving the Midat HaGevurah and Din; he casts off the Midat HaChesed shackles that bound him on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and he starts to again dig the wells, to judge based on strict Din. Just like Shofar breaks the Midat HaDin on Rosh Hashana, Arava binds the Midat HaDin on Hoshana Rabba. Arvei Nachal, growing wild near streams, symbolize Hithpashtut (expansion) HaChesed, where Midat HaDin connotes Tzimtzum, contraction. Hoshana Rabba is called Hamtakat (sweetening) HaDin, because it blunts the power of Din. At the conclusion of the special Hoshana Rabba prayers we find the concept of five aspects of Din. Ari HaKodosh associates the five Aravot comprising the Hoshana with five Chasadim represented by Arava that sweeten the five aspects of Din.
Hamtakat HaDin has a deep and powerful connection to Sukkot and the Four Species. Judaism refers to Hashem as Hayoshev B’Seter B’Tzel, hidden in the shadows. Hashem appears to man shrouded in a cloud, as Moshe received the 13 attributes of Hashem (Parshat KiTisa). The operative theme is in revealing Himself to man, Hashem remains hidden behind a thick and mysterious cloud. Man is incapable of seeing Hashem clearly through the obscuring cloud. Even Moses, the greatest human and prophet, who requested to see Hashem directly, without obfuscation, was rebuffed. Hashem replied that the continued existence of limited man is irreconcilable with viewing the infinity that is Hashem. Different levels of prophecy are manifestations of the same principle. The difference between other prophets and Moses is essentially the depth each was able to penetrate the cloud that cloaks Hashem. (See Shir HaKavod, Byad Nviecha, Himshilucha Bchal Dimyonot.) Prophets see Hashem only through Dimyonot, perceptions that are clouded by the mysterious veil surrounding Hashem. According to the Kabbalists, Hashem reveals Himself to man clothed in a Levush, an outer garment, Kvayachol, Melech Mitlabesh B’Asarah Malbushim. The greater the prophet the deeper his perception of Levush, but no prophet sees clearly through it.