Climate Crisis Hoshanot with the Words of Greta Thunberg

By Rabbi Ezra Weinberg
woman and child shaking lulav and etrog

Introduction

The Torah and early rabbinic sources describe Sukkot as a great celebration of the earth’s bounty in the form of a massive harvest festival. The holiday we celebrate today was built around an elaborate celebration of our relationship to the natural world and our intention to stay in balance with G-d’s many earth-based gifts to humanity.

It is not a stretch to declare that we are living in times of great imbalance between humanity and the earth. The climate crisis is evidence of recent generations' refusing to live in balance with creation. In the fall of 2019 the voice of future generations wondering “what happened” to our planet manifested in the form of a 16-year-old Swedish citizen named Greta Thunberg who spoke to both the U.S. congress and the UN. She implored our leaders to remember the voices of the future and how they will look back on us if we don’t act now.

The following blessing sheet (download the PDF below) infuses Greta’s words with the ancient “Hoshanot” ritual.

Ritual Background

The Hoshanot are an ancient synagogue-based ritual which occur each of the seven days of Sukkot. This prayer moment combines the arba minim (four species—lulav and etrog), the Torah, an acrostic poem and everyone walking in a big circle as the Hoshanot are recited. (Sometimes there is even a shofar for the last day!)

Customs vary on when Hoshanot happen in the Sukkot morning service. Many communities add Hoshanot to the musaf service. Some do it between Hallel and the Torah service.

The ritual begins when at least one Torah is removed from the ark and someone holds the Torah in the middle of the room. With lulav, etrog and siddurim in hand all worshippers begin a slow, single-file procession around the Torah as the prayer leader chants the words of the Hoshanah piyyut (prayer/poem). Hoshanah literally means “Save us now!” Each day has a different theme. Each time a word/phrase in the piyyut is uttered, "Hoshanah!" is proclaimed before and after, followed by a verbatim repeating by all those present. This is the rhythm of the prayer.

Leader: Hoshanah l’ma’an boreynu Hoshanah
Congregation: Hoshanah l’ma’an boreynu Hoshanah.
This is repeated until the piyyut is completed.

When a day of Sukkot falls on Shabbat the ritual is modified so that just the ark is opened, but no Sefer Torah is removed. The traditional circling also happens on Shabbat, and the piyyut is chanted, but without the lulav and etrog

The “Greta” Hoshanot can work the same way, including circling in synagogue. I would recommend reading the traditional Hoshanot first in Hebrew and then making sure everyone has a copy of the "Greta Hoshanot" so they can be the second verse.

And maybe, just maybe, heaven will hear the cry of the earth and the will of the people—and perhaps we can save ourselves and be saved from this dark future....

Prayer

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