The concluding days of Sukkot are just as joyous and celebratory as the opening days, if not more so:
Hoshana Rabba. Literally, “great save”. This does not refer to the Pittsburgh Penguins! There is a tradition that the gates of heaven close to our prayers for forgiveness at Neilah, the concluding service of Yom Kippur. However, that is not entirely precise. Throughout each day of Sukkot, we process around the congregation with the lulav and Etrogchanting Hoshanot, to squeeze that last bit of prayer through the gates that remain slightly ajar. On Hoshana Rabba, the gates officially close. To assist us in these final moments, we chant the last set of Hoshanot and beat willow branches, symbolically transferring our sins onto them. It’s messy yet thrilling. Please join us this Wednesday at 7:30AM, followed by a beautiful breakfast.
Shemini Atzeret. Literally “eighth day of assembly”. Originally a separate holiday, it comes at the conclusion of Sukkot. We offer a Yizkorservice at approximately 11:00AM, as we do on all three festivals and Yom Kippur. Most notably, the Hazzan intones Geshem, the beautiful prayer for rain in the land of Israel, instituted throughout the Jewish world centuries ago in the fervent hope that God hears our prayers and provides vital rain to a desert climate. I accept the responsibility for the rain we have had here in Pittsburgh as I have been practicing the prayer.
Simchat Torah. Literally, “joy of the Torah”. On this date, we conclude the annual reading of the Torah and start it all over again. In the evening service, which begins at 7:00PM, the melodies for the service might seem a bit irreverent, but that’s the idea! We dance and sing with the Torot, and then, for something special that you won’t want to miss, we will unroll THE ENTIRE TORAH. I will give a brief overview of the scroll, and then we will have three aliyot – ½ the congregation, then the other half, and then all of the children gathered under a large tallit. We will communally lift the Torah, and then carefully roll it. The festivities continue the following morning at 9:45 with more singing and dancing, plus everyone gets an Aliyah at the Torah (and a L’chayim to boot!). The first chapter of the book of Genesis is chanted with a special melody to conclude each day, which you just have to hear to believe!
In case all of the above celebrations are insufficient, I want to remind you that this past Shabbat I reinstituted an ancient custom – a L’Chayim at the conclusion of services. Please join me at the newly formed L’Chayim Club Table to enjoy this custom. May the joy of these holidays be carried with you beyond their conclusion.