Hoshana Raba Prayers at Western Wall
Hoshana Raba Prayers at Western WallYoni Kempinski

“Then they cry to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses” (Psalms 107:28)

It is nighttime. The sukkah is faintly lit by stars above, by light glowing in windows of nearby homes. All is silent. The outline of the sukkah roof may be seen, soft black against the night’s darkness. The pastel colors of leaves and flowers we hung above are pale in the darkening gloom. The sukkah is festively prepared for the family who will soon gather. And for our honored guests, the Ushpizin, who will join us in their turn on each day of Sukkot. For the celebration which will occur in the sukkah during this festival.

But all is quiet. And in the morning, all will be quiet too. Darkness hovers, and will not dispelled by the morning light. Silence of the night will linger, undisturbed by morning’s chatter. A heaviness which will not depart, although we are in the holiday of Sukkot, the holiday of joy “Zman Simchatenu”, when we are commanded to rejoice. Though the holiday of Sukkot is our time of joy, our time of happiness.

“You shall rejoice in your festival, you and your son and your daughter…For seven days you shall keep the festival to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.” (Deuteronomy 16:14-15)

It was just that time of year, when we said Kaddish in memory of my father (z’l). Throughout my life, I have often been strengthened by the memory of his voice. I can usually almost hear my father say, in his typical fashion, “Don’t take it so seriously!”. But even that voice is quiet now. There is only silence.

At the entrance to the Sukkah the children hung two doves. Doves of peace, their wings outstretched. The security which we feel under the wings of God, sheltering us with majestic glory and holiness. On Sukkot, we are reminded of God’s benevolence. We remember the clouds of glory which accompanied us during the long years in the desert, and protected us.

As we say upon entering the Sukkah each evening anew:

“May it be Your will, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, to cause Your Divine spirit to dwell in our midst. O spread over us your shelter of peace, and encircle us with Your majestic glory, holy and pure…O grant us long life in the holy land that we may serve You with reverence…”

The white doves rise above the sukkah, drifting towards Heaven. Are those the wings of the doves, or of the angels? As on the High Holidays “The great Shofar is sounded and a still small voice is heard. The angels in heaven are dismayed and are seized with fear and trembling, as they proclaim: ‘Behold the Day of Judgment!’ ” (Unetanah Tokef prayer)

Carried on their wings, as in a dream of days-gone-by, I am again a child. Enchanted, I hear the voice of the chazan intone prior to the blowing of the Shofar:

“Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has made us holy with commandments, and who has commanded us to hear the voice of the shofar.”

The sound of the shofar is a piercing call. A cry, a plea, and a promise. It is a call for renewal, for reawakening and redemption. We are reminded of God’s presence, of our commitment to enhance His presence in our lives. We are heartened by the promise of redemption.

“Rabbi Abbahu said: Why do we blow a ram’s horn …? The Holy One, blessed be He said: Sound before Me a ram’s horn so that I will remember on your behalf the binding of Isaac, son of Abraham, in whose stead a ram was sacrificed, and I will ascribe it to you as if you had bound yourselves before Me.” (Rosh Hashanah: 16a)

Was it only a few days ago that we were all in a park? In that special time between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Lush green grass, towering trees, laughter of children in the playground. The joy as they bounced a ball one to the other, played paddle ball together. Three, even four generations after the Holocaust, together in a park in the Holy Land. My parent’s children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. Together with the daughters of my father’s childhood friend who also survived the Holocaust, and emigrated to Israel after the war. Together with their children and grandchildren. A miracle displayed before our very eyes. A reverence of the moment. And gratitude to Heaven for our very presence here, in the Land of Promise.

In the distance, the sun was setting. A dazzling orb of cheerful yellow against the gloom of a darkening sky, the dark presence of tall tree tops stark upon the fading sunset.

But from somewhere within, or was it above, I could almost hear an echo of the prayers of Yom Kippur

“For the sin which we have committed before Thee by violence,

And for the sin which we have committee before Thee by the profanation of Thy name;

For the sin which we have committed before Thee by unclean lips,

And for the sin which we have committed before Thee by impure speech

…And for the sin which we have committed before Thee wittingly or unwittingly;

For all these, Of God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement”

And so, this year, there is a sense of desolation. And the vision of a darkening sky has remained with me, refuses to depart. Have we truly betrayed ourselves, our heritage, defiled that which is our very source of life?

After the desecration of prayers, of the blowing of the shofar which occurred on the holiest day of the year, in Thy Holy Land. As the sun had just set, or was just about to set…Something in the darkness has not yet been dispelled. Are we worthy?

But we did not not know. Or did we? Are we responsible?

For preventing fellow Jews from praying in the land of Israel. For the inconceivable profanation of prayers on the holiest of days, in the land of Israel.

For allowing desecration of Thy Holy name. Knowingly, and unknowingly.

“On Rosh Hashanah the decree is inscribed and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, how many shall pass away and now many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die…who shall be tranquil and who shall be disturbed; who shall be at ease and who shall be afflicted…” (Unetanh Tokef prayer)

According to tradition, Hoshana Rabbah is the final day of determination of our fate. On this day, the decision made by the Heavenly Court on Yom Kippur will be confirmed. According to the Midrash, Abraham was told by God, “If atonement was not granted to your children on Rosh Hashanah, I will grant it on Yom Kippur. If atonement was not attained on Yom Kippur, I will grant it on Hoshana Rabbah.”

The period of repentance which began on Rosh Hashanah extends until Hoshana Rabbah. And on Hoshana Rabah, once again the shofar will be sounded.

Will we be forgiven for that which occurred but a mere week ago?

For true forgiveness is almost magical, in that it washes away the grayness of the past, leaves us with a possibility of renewal. Can we forgive ourselves, can we forgive one another, will we be forgiven by Heaven? Will we find that there now has been opened for us a new period of enhanced beauty, of holiness, of light?

“Open the gates of heaven and open up the storage rooms of your bounty to us, You will save us and not extend the quarrel, deliver us, God our savior!” (Hoshana Rabbah prayer)

Perhaps this year, the Great Shofar will be sounded on Hoshana Rabah in all of Israel. Not indoors in hiding but outside, in public. Proclaiming Thy Glory. Proclaiming our hope in the future, our faith in Thy eternal promise to future generations.

Grateful for the hopes and prayers which we are blessed to see come to fruition today, at this period of time.

We cherish the blessings we have received, the blessings of life in the Promised Land. As our fate is being sealed, we remember.

“O Lord what is man that Thou art mindful of him?
And the son of man that Thou thinks of him?
Yet Thou hast made him but little lower than the angels,

And have crowned him with glory and honor. “ (Psalms 8:4-9)

May we be worthy of the glory and honor.

Dr. Devorah Ungaris an American-born scientist and musician.who moved to Israel 30 years ago.