On the seventh and final day of the Jewish holiday Sukkot, we celebrate Hoshanah Rabbah. This Jewish holiday is honored by a special synagogue service in which the congregation circles the synagogue seven times while shaking the lulav and ertog. (For more details about the lulav and ertog, check out our Sukkot article.) Seven circuits around the synagogue are representative of the seventh day of Sukkot as well as the seven words in Psalms 26:6, “Erhatzbenikayon kappay, va’ashovevah et mizbahakha Hashem.” Translated into English, this passage means, “I wash my hands in purity and circle around Your altar, O Lord.”
The ceremony is focused on rejoicing and showing gratitude for a blessed and fruitful year. It also serves to tear down the iron wall that separates us from G-d, much like the wall of Jericho. At the conclusion of the Jewish holiday service, five willow branches are beaten on the ground while the Aramaic expression “Chabit, chabit velah barich” is chanted to symbolize the elimination of sin. This act is also a prayer for rain and success in agriculture in the coming year.
During the festival of Sukkot, the world is judged for water. As the final day of Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabbah is the final sealing. Since human beings need water for basic survival, this Jewish holiday is seen in a similar light as Yom Kippur. So on this Jewish holiday, there are many prayers for repentance and the cantor wears a kittel, just like on the High Holidays.