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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Shofar Use for Succot and Simhat Torah

Shofar Use for Succot and Simhat Torah

Arthur L. Finkle

Interestingly, some traditional synagogues sound the shofar during the seventh day of Succot (also Hosanna Raba – when the book s of Life and Death) are closed.

These rituals of Hoshana Rabbah go back to the times of the Holy Temple.
In reading the tractate Succah, both Palestinian and Babylonian, we come across some fascinating social history regarding the role of the shofar in the ceremonies of the Holy Temple.

We learn that part of the Succot ceremony is celebrated today insofar as dwelling in the sukkah and handling the lulav (palm branch), etrog (related to the lemon, indigenous to Israel), myrtle branch and water willow branch (Arava).

Many ritual services omit two other important rites of the Holy Temple on Succot: the Aravot Ceremony and the Water Libation Ceremony.
The Rabbi’s transformed the Water Willow Dance, performed on the seventh day of Succot, into Hoshana Rabba on the seventh day of Succot. 

Water Libation Ceremony

The Water Libation Ceremony rationale taught the Jewish people to bring water before Him on Succot, petitioning for adequate rains, paramount to the success of their agricultural commerce and society. (Succah Bavli 37; and Rosh Hashana 16a).

The Midrash (book of ethical stories and interpretations) interprets the water ceremony as the sadness when God separated the waters to upper and lower (to form the firmament). God noted their distress; thus, elevated the lower waters during this rite. (Rabbaynu Bachya to Lev 1:13)
The Water Libation ceremony was an elaborate ritual emitting great joy, in fulfilling of Isaiah 12:3:”You shall draw water with joy from the wellsprings of salvation.”

The Rabbi’s in Yerushalmi Succah 31b (Palestinian) give a social history of the role of the shofar in the Holy Temple, with particular emphasis on Succot. Further, the Rabbis agreed that the Water Libation Ceremony is Scriptural) See Bavli Zevachim 110b.

The seven times around the Temple is replicated in Rabbinical ordained holiday, (Simhat Torah). Each circling with Torahs in hand, the congregation circles the prayer house at the signal of a shofar blast.

Aravot Ceremony

The Mishnah (Sukkah 4:5) indicates that the custom was to circle the altar one time on each day of Succot and seven times on the seventh day (similar to Joshua’s circling of Jericho). We circle the center of the synagogue (Bimah) and seven times on the seventh day.  We also perform this ceremony on the newer holiday of Simchat Torah, established by the Rabbi’s.

Jonatan Adler discusses this ceremony as he describes ancient coins which depicted this ceremony. The depiction shows the golden flasgon used to gather the water from the well of Sheloah; a willow branch
"What was the rite of the willow-branch? There was a place below Jerusalem called Motza. The Talmud indicates that Bavli Talmud cites that city to be Kalonia. Because it was tax-exempt, the trees were ownerless; thus, there was no taint of theft involved. See Meiri Bavli 45a.

Priests collected young willow branches, and then came and set them upright along the sides of the altar, with their tops bent over the top of the altar, after which the trumpets made a long blast, a quavering note, and a prolonged blast". These trumpets were sounded by Kohanim (Priests) See Num. 10:8, 9 and Mishnah Succot 5:6.

With reference to what we have learnt, '''Every day they walked round the altar once, and on that day they went round seven times"', your father, citing R. Eleazar, stated: "[This was done] with the lulav (BT Sukkah 43b Soncino translation). This statement was challenged by contemporary sages, who held that the altar was encircled while holding willow-branches, and not the "four species" (ibid.); See also 1. L. Rubenstein: The History of Sukkot in the Second Temple and Rabbinic Periods, Atlanta, 1995, p. 109, who writes: "Most likely the circumambulations were performed with willows - the description says nothing of the lulav but we should not advance solid historical claims where the traditions are silent".  M Sukkah 4: 5, The statement by R. Johanan b. Baroka (M Sukkah 4: 6) regarding the beating of palm fronds should be seen as complementing this tradition (Rubenstein, above, n. 7, p. liS). Jonatan Adler, ,The Temple Willow-Branch Ritual Depicted on Bar Kokhba Denarii, Israel Numismatic Journal, 16 (2007–2008), pp. 129–133

In Tractate Zevahim 110a-b, the Rabbi’s discuss the water libation service is described in detail in Tractate Sukkah (p. 48) . The Priest bought water from the  Shiloah spring (underneath the Temple) to the Temple with great fanfare. The Priest took the jug of water, walked up the ramp to the altar and turned left, where there were two bowls that drained into the foundation of the Temple. The bowls were for the the water libation on Sukkot and for the wine libation that accompanied many of the sacrifices

Here we get into a fine point of Jewish Law. Rabbi Elazar prohibits such copying of Temple practices. See Zevahim 110a-b. However, the later commentators differ.
Rabbi Akiva who derives the service of the water libation from passages in the Torah (Numbers 29:31), the Talmud concludes that this obligation is a law given by Moses on Mt. Sinai, an oral tradition received by Moses on Mount Sinai). In his Commentary to the Mishnah, the Maimonides (1140-1215) suggests that the Jewish Law will be different depending on whether the source for this mitzvah is actually in the Torah or if it is an oral tradition.
While many of the commentaries object to this distinction, arguing that both are considered biblical, it appears that Maimonides follows the approach of the Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 11:4) that distinguishes between them, and understands that Jewish Law from the oral tradition of Moses is similar to the oral tradition of the Rabbi’s.

An interesting note is that the Pharisees opposed this holding. Yersul. Succah 27a.

It should be also noted that, although most trees in ancient Egypt were not considered holy, the willow tree was the primordial tree on which the sun rested in the shape of a bird at the beginning of the world. It was sacred to Osiris and gave shade to his coffin while his soul rested on it.
Trees were possibly less important in the Egyptian religion than in others. But some trees had divine connections, being home, birthplace or resting place of some deities. In the temple at Denderah one inscription proclaims: The names of the sacred trees are jS.t, kbs, tr.

Shofar and Willow Branches

In Tractate Succah (45a) the mitzvah, the Rabbi’s discuss the "Arava" (willow branches).  During the time of the Holy Temple, the priests would go down on the Succot holiday to a place called Motza that was below Jerusalem to cut large willow branches. They would then bring the branches to the Temple and lean them against the side of the altar, with the top part leaning over the top of the altar.
They would then blow the shofar in the standard fashion, with one broken sound (teru'ah) preceded and followed by a solid sound (teki'ah).
Although the Rabbi’s disagreed over the exact time this ritual began, they concurred that the Prophets instituted this custom. Thus, it was not likely occurring in the Frist Temple but was in the Second Temple.
The Rabbi’s taught that willows of the brook mean of special type of willow as opposed to another species of willow (zafzafah) which grows in the mountains. (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 34a)
Accordingly, the Rabbi’s decreed the seventh day of Succot as Hoshana Rabba, the day of many petitions for salvation ( the time that the Book of Life and Death are finally sealed).

Shofar and Water Ceremony

The Rabbi’s explored some history. (Bavli, Rosh Hashana 16a). As the world is judged for water on Succot, we used to bring a water offering so that the rains for the coming year should be blessed.  Water was the lifeblood of the Israeli agricultural society. Petitioning adequate water was a prayer to further one’s livelihood and life.

Another reason is that the holiday of the harvest moon (on which Succot begins) occurs five days after Yom Kippur in the harvest season. During the harvest season, a person may become haughty and forget God. The Rabbi’s reflect that haughtiness affects not only farmers, of course. The wise may take credit for their knowledge and those of fine character may take credit for their graces. The bottom line is that all we get, whether it be money, wisdom, or respect, comes from God. See

Succot 4:5 indicates that The shofar blew three times (tekiah, teruah and tekiah) before the priests circled the altar, in order to draw attention to this important festival.

The Sages from the 11th through 16th centuries explain that the reason that this is specifically done on the seventh day of Succot is that it is a day of judgment for water. This means rain and, in a broader sense, all livelihood. We therefore add special prayers to ask for a good year. The Talmud records a dispute as to whether this is a prophetically ordained custom or not, but we do know that it traces back to the Holy Temple. 
Transition of Water Willow Dance to Hoshana Rabba
The name for this holiday probably comes from Psalm 118:25. Hoshana means to save. This is the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles. It comes one day before Shimini Atzeret (Special Day petitioning for rain which also is the last day of Succot). It is usually observed on the 21st day of the Hebrew month Tishri. It is also called "the great Hosanna."
  • This practice in the Temple serves as the basis for our modern custom of Hosannas. As reported by The TUR (14th century German-Spanish Legalist, in Orech Chaim 660), we circle the bema once a day with a Torah being taken to the bema (a practice based on the Yalkut Tehillim) and thus serving as the focal point and in place of the altar. We also bring a Torah to the middle since during the time of the Holy Temple the marchers would recite the name of God while walking, and we have a tradition that the entire Torah is made up of various names of God. According to the Yerushalmi (Palestinian Talmud), our current practice reflects not only what was done during the time of the Temple, but also is meant to mimic the siege and conquering of Jericho in the time of Joshua, when they circled the city once a day for six days and seven times on the final day, causing the walls to come tumbling down (Joshua 6).
R. Joseph Caro (compiler of the Code of Jewish Law, 1565) notes that on Hoshana Rabba (seventh day of Succot), even a person who does not have the four species (palm branch, myrtle, water willow and etrog) should take part in the seven laps around the Torah. His rationale is that since there is a special remembrance of what was done in the Temple - see Succah 41a for more on this concept). The common practice is that a person who does not have the four species never takes part in the walking around the bima.

Importance of the Shofar

Rosh Hashana is the festival of the shofar. Yom Kippur sounds the shofar at the end of the service, originally to announce the Jubilee Year. The shofar called ATTENTION TO Succot, to petition God for abundant rains and consequent harvest. It also echoed, in a minor form, the elaborate Water Libation Ceremony during which the shofar sounded 15 times, for every step to climb to the altar.

Some synagogues retain traces of the Holy Temple.. No longer do we make animal and meal sacrifices. But keep the intent of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. And we  have spiritualized the festival of Succot to one of petition for agricultural needs, to one of remembrance and thanksgiving. Further, Hoshana Rabba celebrates the closing of the book of accounting. 

1 comment:

val said...

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