Hoshana Rabba

The Humble Willow

by Binyamin Adilman

What is the nature of the Arava (willow) that it is taken together with the other species during the first 6 days of Sukkos and only on the last day is it taken by itself meriting a holiday of its own; Hoshana Rabba?

The sages explained that the four species represent four different types of Jews. 

            The Esrog (citron) which has both a good taste and fragrance, represents one who possesses both Torah learning and good deeds (mitzvohs).

            The Lulav (palm branch) which has a good taste (the dates which grow on the palm), but no fragrance, represents one possesses Torah learning but has no mitzvohs to his credit.

            The Hadassim (myrtle twigs) which has fragrance but not a good taste, represent one who has mitzvohs but no Torah learning.

            The Aravos (willow branches) which have neither taste nor fragrance, represent the one who lacks both Torah and mitzvohs.

When one considers all the things that Hashem placed in the world for our benefit, there are three categories; things which are sweet and pleasant, things which are good, and things which are not only good but also intrinsically beneficial or healthful. When it comes to the physical realm, sweet and pleasant is considered the lowest level, good is in the middle and beneficial or healthful is the most praiseworthy.

For example a person who is spiritually sensitive, when choosing the foods he will eat, makes his decision based on what is healthful for his body and that which will provide him the maximum advantage in his Avodas Hashem. This is true even when that beneficial food is not so tasty and doesn't make such an enjoyable meal.

Nevertheless, when it comes to spiritual matters the case is reversed, and the considerations are exactly the opposite.

For a Jew who dedicated to Hashem's service, to engage is his Avodah because it is healthful or beneficial, is like serving the master in order to receive recompense, and that is the lowest level of all. (Pirkei Avos 1:3)  

Above this level is that of good. Sometimes one serves Hashem knowing that it is good and right, and he doesn't want to risk the consequences of going against Hashem's will.  Still this is not ultimately the purest way to serve Hashem since there remains some ulterior motivation in the service.

The ultimate level of service is reached when one serves Hashem solely in order to fulfill ones Torah obligations, whether or not he understand the mitzvoh, and even if the mitzvoh has no ta'am  v'rayach (taste or fragrance, personal satisfaction) for him. Then, from above his is showered with divine beneficence and he is blessed with a great sweetness and pleasantness in his service which was before this unattainable. This spiritual sweetness (araivus) is much higher much than good or healthful and more pure in its essence.

This is the idea of the Aravos (willows) which is from the word Araiv (sweet or pleasant). The lowly Arava which has no ta'am (taste) or rayach (fragrance) in the physical realm ends up being the most prominent of all the species when we take it alone on the holiday created especially for it. And we with the willows in our hands, are elevated along with them as we refine our service until we like the willow are capable of serving Hashem in a pure and unadulterated way.

The Arava also represents the midoh of Aharon the High Priest. He was an expert at making peace between people at odds with one another  When he spotted two people quarreling, he choose an opportune moment when he would approach one of the quarrelers, speak to him nicely and befriend him. The person would think to himself, " Aaron HaCohen is befriending me! Why does he need me for a friend?  If he knew what type of person I really was, he would have nothing to do with me."  At that moment, he would resolve in his heart to do real Teshuva, to be worthy of calling the Cohen Gadol his friend.

Our Sukkahs are symbolic of the Clouds of Glory which accompanied and protected the Children of Israel in the desert. Therefore, on Sukkos, a holiday which is intrinsically linked to Aaron, we also incorporate the Arava into our service. At the beginning of the festival, the Arava is taken each day, bound together with the other species.  This way, the person without Ta'am V'Rayach might be influenced by those who are already on a higher spiritual level and thereby become elevated through contact with them. On the other hand, one who has Ta'am V'Rayach, when he comes into con­tact with the willow, the one without Ta'am V'Rayach,  will be reminded of the inherent lowliness of man, and will be seized by waves of humility. He will take a good look at him­self, be humbled, and deepen the Teshuva he began in Elul.

As a person perfects his personal humility, Hashem is at the same time raising him up. This is Hoshana Rabba.  As Chazal stated, "One who brings a burnt offering, earns the reward of a burnt offering. One who brings a meal offering, earns the reward of a meal offering. But one who is humble, is considered as if he brought all of the sacrifices, as it is written, 'A contrite and humbled spirit is a sacrifice to Hashem. Hashem does not ignore a broken heart.'" (Psalms 51) (Sanhedrin 43b)

The lowly willow by way of its true humility and its willingness to be influenced for the better by the other species, is elevated higher, higher until it serve Hashem alone. For this purpose we have Hoshana Rabba.

When we, in our exalted spiritual state on Hoshana Rabba, really feel that we are children of the King, then of course there isn't a request that is too much.  Then we can, without embarrassment ask for anything and we can ask for the ultimate request, that soon the day will come when the whole world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the earth is covered with water, and He and His Name will be One as we usher in the age of peace and prosperity.

A Piska Tava!

A Gut YomTov!

Rabbi Benyamin Adilman is the dean  of  the Nishmas Chayim Yeshiva in Jerusalem [www.nishmas.org], and also the author of a very interesting, but sporadically published, weekly chasidic parsha sheet, B’ohelei Tzadikim, from which this article is taken.


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