b'WESTERN MARBLE ARCH SYNAGOGUEHOSHANA RABA A MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR SIMON DJANOGLYH oshana Raba is a mysterious festival which takesplaceattheendofSukkotandis generally held to be a solemn affair.WhereasduringthepreviousdaysofSukkot,we encirclethebimahonlyonceinthesynagogue, singing Hoshana (Save us please) with lulav and etrog in hand, on Hoshana Raba, we walk around it 7 timeshence Raba or numerous. The other remarkable thing about this day is that it is considered a mini-Yom Kippur in the sense that the Heavenly verdict, on the scale of merit or (ahem) work-in-progress for the coming year, is finalised on this day.Finally, and perhaps most strangely of all, is the beating of the willow branches on the floor of the shul. There does not seem to be a definitive reason for doing thisat least not one that is known these daysand it was the prophets who kept this custom without seeming to explain why.Far be it from us to presume what the prophets were thinking, the following may provide some insight into whats behind it all:During the Temple times, the sacrificial altar during Sukkot was surrounded with willow branches which were positioned to lean over the top of the altar. On Hoshana Raba, the altar was encircled seven times by the priests seven times, offering praise to G-d, ahead of His verdict for water in the coming yeardecided on this day.Whats the connection? A willow tree grows next to water.Convinced? Not yet? Ok, bear with me.Next are the four species which represent all the different types of Jewish people: those with knowledge, those with deeds, and those with varying levels in between. The willow, having minimal smell or taste, represents a person with minimal deeds and knowledge; it is also the specie that is shaped like a mouth or lips and therefore symbolises prayer.22'