The Final Judgment and the Custom to Remain Awake All Night
The primary days of judgment are from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, however, Hosha’ana Rabba which is the seventh day of the Sukkot festival, one’s judgment for the coming year is completely sealed.
The prevalent custom among the Jewish nation is to remain awake all night on Hosha’ana Rabba and study Torah. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l ruled that it is preferable to recite the customary order for the night of Hosha’ana Rabba printed in the Sefer “Keri’eh Mo’ed” as is customary in Sephardic synagogues all over the world. In Maran zt”l’s own synagogue, he would customarily deliver discourses on this night on topics of Agaddah and Mussar and his words of Torah were as joyous as when they were given at Mount Sinai.
This custom of staying up all night is not compulsory according to Halacha and one who is weak and cannot do so is not considered to have done anything wrong. Certainly, regarding this year when many people in many places cannot observe this custom in the congregation as a result of the Coronavirus and this is compounded by the fact that it is extremely difficult to stay awake all night when one is alone, there is absolutely nothing wrong with one who abstains from doing so. One should nevertheless try to study Torah as much as possible at the beginning of the night.
Women Staying Awake All Night on Hosha’ana Rabba
Rabbeinu Yosef Haim, the saintly Ben Ish Hai, writes (in his Sefer Sod Yesharim) that women may also stay up all night on Hosha’ana Rabba since the Tikkun of this night applies to them as well (as opposed to that of Shavuot night regarding which we have written that women should not stay up all night). However, women should not observe this pious custom if it will cause them to lose sight of their primary Mitzvah which is preparing adequately for the holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. She may read some Tehillim before going to sleep though.
The Customary Prayers on the Night of Hosha’ana Rabba
The seventh day of Sukkot, which begins from tonight, Thursday night, is called “Hosha’ana Rabba” and the day is spent immersed in increased prayer and Torah study. The Teva is encircled seven times following Shacharit prayers while reciting supplication prayers and requests for blessed rains since the world is judged regarding water during the Sukkot holiday (see Rosh Hashanah 16a). Nevertheless, since it is still a holiday, we do not recite the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy as we do during the Days of Awe. Thus, when the Chazzan recites the “Rachamana” text, the congregation should substitute “Bedil Va’Ya’avor” with “Amen.” (Ruling of Maran Ha’Chida quoted by Chazon Ovadia- Sukkot, page 437)
In places where this custom cannot be observed in the synagogue, one may read all of the supplications at home while encircling a table or chair with a Tanach or Chumash placed on it seven times while holding the Four Species.
The Custom of Beating the Aravah
It is customary to take five Aravot (willow) stems and beat them on the ground five times following Mussaf prayers on the morning of Hosha’ana Rabba. This custom was established by the prophets and there are many deep reasons behind this custom.
It is customary to take five new Aravot for this custom. However, if one only has three stems, one may join the two Aravot from the Lulav with them after detaching them from the Lulav.
One should take care to procure five Aravot stems in order to fulfill this custom. A Minyan is not necessary to fulfill this custom and even individuals may do so by going outside their house and beating the Aravot on unpaved earth.
The Law Regarding the Four Species After Sukkot
The Lulav and other species do not retain holiness after the holiday concludes and they may be discarded (respectfully). However, one should not do so in a degrading manner; rather, one should just leave it on the side of the street.
Shenayim Mikra Ve’Echad Targum
Shenayim Mikra Ve’Echad Targum for Parashat Ve’Zot Ha’Beracha should be read on Friday, Hosha’ana Rabba (or on Shabbat, Shemini Atzeret, outside of Israel). If one forgets to do so, one may read it on the night of Simchat Torah or early in the morning of Yom Tov before Shacharit prayers.
Wishing the entire Jewish nation a Chag Sameach and Tizku Le’Shanim Rabbot Ne’imot Ve’Tovot!