Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
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 some of our modern ills, click here.
The prayers, called Hoshanot, are traditionally said every day of Sukkot, usually 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 one begins and ends with "Hoshana"--"Please save!" Each one 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!
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!"
* "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