This Sunday we celebrate one of my favorite holidays, Hoshana Raba. Hoshana Raba is the seventh and last day of Sukkot, and the services that morning combine melodies and practices from weekdays, the High Holidays, and the Festivals. The climax of the Hoshana Raba service comes near the end, when we take up a bunch of willow branches and beat them on the floor of the synagogue so that the leaves separate from them and fall to the ground.
Why? Mystical tradition relates that while our fate in the coming year is written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur, it is on Hoshana Raba that God gives the decree to the angels to be delivered into the world. Before God hands over each decree, God checks to see if the person in question has perhaps, at the last moment, made a change for the good, so that the decree can also be changed if need be. Hoshana Raba represents our last chance to change our direction in the coming year, to add a note, an addendum, to the fate written for us. When we beat the willow branches, the leaves that fall off represent the old ways that we are leaving behind to allow us to move in new and better direction.
May we take this opportunity to check in with the changes to which we committed ourselves throughout the High Holidays and to recommit ourselves to change. Then we will have added a pitka tova - Aramaic for a “good note” - to the fate we have written for ourselves in the coming year.