Tonight and tomorrow is Hoshanna Rabba.
The days of Sukkot were days of a special happiness in the Bet haMikdash (Temple of Jerusalem).
In addition to the Biblical commandment of taking the four species, there weretwo other Mitzvot fulfilled in the Temple to celebrate Sukkot. These two practices are included in what is called halakha leMoshe miSinai (religious traditions taught to Moses at Mount Sinai, with no Scriptural source). One of them wasmitzvat 'araba: The 'commandment of the willow' (the second Mitzva was nisukh hamayim). (The commandment of the willow should not be confused with the two arabot, the willow branches that are included in the four species, tied together with the lulab and hadas).
There was a place in the outskirts of Jerusalem called Motza (which exists to this day). Each day of Sukkot, the people would descend there and cut down large willow branches (18-20 feet tall). The willows would be placed along the foundation of the altar, with their heads bent over the top" (Sukkah 4, 5).
Since the altar itself was 15 feet high, the branches would hang over the top of the altar on all four sides. Each day of Sukkot, the priests would march one time around the altar, making a circle with their lulabim in hand, praying to the Almighty "We beseech You, O Lord, please save us! We beseech You, O L-rd, please grant us success!" (ana haShem hoshi'a na; ana haShem hatzlicha na). On the seventh and last day of the festival, Hoshana Rabba, they would circle the altar seven times (remember the conquest of Jericho?).
Today, in our Synagogues we circuit the 'bima' every day of sukkot (hakafot) with our lulab and etrog, and on the seventh day, Hoshana rabba, we do seven circuits, in remembrance of the Bet haMikdash.
Following a Kabbalistic custom, it is also customary to stay awake all night on Hoshana Rabba studying Torah.
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ON GILAD SHALIT RELEASE
Gil'ad Shalit and the price for his release, by Sherri Mandel (mother of Koby Mandel z'l)