Waving To and Fro

Sukkot is almost over. One more day. Tonight is Hoshana Raba and tomorrow morning we face a long prayer, circling the bimah seven times whilst holding and waving the lulav in all directions.

Every year on Sukkot I am struck with the same odd feeling. It’s one of the most beautiful festivals, one on which we are commanded to be happy. After the stressful 10 days of the beginning of the year, culminating in Yom Kipppur, a happy holiday is just what we need. And yet, every morning of Sukkot and particularly on Hoshana Rabba, I watch myself and my fellow congregants waving the lulav to and fro, in all four directions of the earth, and I can’t help but think to myself (not out loud of course, God forbid): “what the heck is going on here?!”.

Yes, I am aware of the different reasons given to this strange custom, from the Seffer HaChinuch who categorises this mitzvah with the ones given to us by God for bringing us closer to Him, through the symbolistic gesture that the whole world belongs to God, to the more kabbalistic explanations about warding off evil spirits. And still, it just doesn’t feel right. All this to and fro… All this circling around the synagogue…

To put it somewhat bluntly, there’s a somewhat paganistic feel to it all. Of course I’m not suggesting this is a pagan ritual, and obviously if it’s directed towards a proper cause – the worship of God – there’s nothing wrong with it. And yet…

Oh well, I guess I’ll just need to suppress my impure thoughts tomorrow morning, stifle my yawns (we start at 5am!) and go through the motions. Chag Sameach!

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