Hoshana Raba

The last day of Chol Hamoed Sukkot is called Hoshana Raba, the Great Hoshana, because of the extensive Hoshana service.

a) All of the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and held by members of the congregation at the bimah.

b) While holding the lulav set, the bimah is circled 7 times while responsively reciting the special Hoshana prayers of the day.

c) After circling the bimah, the lulav set is put down and a special bundle of 5 aravot (willow branches) are held. Selichot, penitential prayers, are then recited and the Torah scrolls are returned to the ark.

d) The participants then take the bundle of aravot (willow branches) and beat them against the ground five times.

Hoshana Raba is actually the last day of the Sukkot holiday. (The remaining two days of Yom Tov are a separate festival). It is therefore customary to eat a festive meal in the sukkah in the afternoon to fulfill that mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah one last time.

a) It is traditional to begin the meal with a whole round challah which is sprinkled with salt and then dipped in honey.
b) On Hashana Rabbah, some have the custom to serve Kreplach (dumplings), which are symbolic of our wanting G-d to hide our sins.

3) While G-d judges the world on Rosh Hashana and concludes the verdict on Yom Kippur, on Hoshana Raba the verdict receives its final seal. One therefore has time to complete the teshuvah, repentance process, up until the closing hours of Hoshana Raba.

a) There is a custom to spend the night of Hoshana Raba studying Torah, fortifying oneself at the last moment of judgement.
b) The cantor wears a white kittel (robe) on Hoshana Raba, as he does on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

c) In Israel, people stay up all night studying Torah and then thousands go to the Western Wall for the Hoshana Raba Service.