The Baal Shem Tov, or Besht —  the founder of Chasidism — 
met the soul of the Messiah during an ascent to heaven. 
The Besht asked him, "When will the Master come?" 
The Messiah answered, "When your wellsprings break forth to the outside!" 
(from a letter written by the Besht to his brother-in-law about one of his soul ascents) 

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Hoshanot on Sukkot/Hoshana Rabbah!

The original Jewish earth prayers!

Some of the most extraordinary prayers for the Earth are found in the Hoshanot for Sukkot. Because Sukkot is the beginning of the rainy season on which everyone's lives depended, our ancestors were especially aware at this time of the relationship between blessing, fertility and rain on this holiday. Sukkot became the time we pray not only for rain, but also for blessings for the earth, the crops, the animals, for our people, and for humanity.

(For a Hoshana addressing modern ecological ills, click here.)

The prayers, called Hoshanot, are traditionally said every day of Sukkot, either when taking the Torah or towards the end of the service. The repeated call and response of these prayers can be led by anyone or any number of people. Each line begins and ends with "Hoshana"--"Please save!" Each line asks for God to save some aspect of our world: the elements, clouds and rain, the animals and plants, the crops, humanity, the Temple, and more. There's choreography but it's pretty simple: everyone parades in a circle (a Hakafah) around the ark or Torah with lulav and etrog in hand. Going once around is called doing or completing a Hakafah.

On Hoshana Rabba, the last day of Sukkot, we circle seven times and recite all the poems from the past six days, along with many added poems. A different set of Hoshanot is recited for each of the Hakafot. The fifth Hakafah of Hoshana Rabbah is especially wonderful. It's called "Adam Uv'heimah"-"Human and Animal", from the words in the first line of the Hoshana. Here are the first lines, and the end:

Hoshana adam uv'heimah, hoshana!
Please save human and animal! Please, save!
Hoshana basar v'ruach un'shamah, hoshana!
Please save flesh and spirit and breathing!
Hoshana gid v'etsem v'qormah, hoshana!
Please save sinew and bone and knit!
Hoshana dmut v'tselem v'rikmah, hoshana!
Please save likeness and image and weave!
Hoshana hod lahevel damah (hoshana) v'nimshal kab'heimot nidmah, hoshana!
Please save! Majesty is compared to empty breath (please save!) and the one compared is likened as the animals!
Hoshana ziv v'toar v'qomah, hoshana!
Please save radiance and beautiful form and fullness of stature*!
Hoshana chidush pnai ha'adamah, hoshana!...
Please save, Renew the face of the earth!
Hoshana t'luyah al b'li mah, hoshana!
Please save [this world] suspended upon nothingness!

The prayers can be powerful, though the modern tendency is to do them with some silliness. (The prayer for Tu Bishvat is even more powerful in some ways, but the Hoshanot go back well more than a millenium, while Tu Bishvat only goes back a few centuries.) Unfortunately, most siddurim don't translate these prayers, give brief summaries, or simple miss their meaning. One of the tricky things about understanding or translating the Hoshanot is that the grammar of the words that go in the between the Hoshanot changes repeatedly: sometimes it's a thing we are asking to be saved, like, "Please save the d'vir" -- part of the Temple Holy of Holies, sometimes it's a kind of calamity we are asking to be averted, like, "Please save the sheep from miscarriage", sometimes it's an action, like the one above that says, "Please save, Renew the face of the earth!"

Here's a link to download the Hebrew for Hoshana Rabbah (note that the weekdays given correspond to 5766). You can also go here to find Reb Zalman's English version of environmental Hoshanot.

* "fullness of stature" – the Hebrew, komah קומה, means, erect posture, height, stature, especially of a human being, as well as the potential to achieve the stature or status or metaphysical height of a human being, which is something found in every spark, whether that spark be found in animal, plant, or any material thing.



Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006