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Hoshana Rabbah

Hoshana Rabbah is the last day of the festival, literally, "on the last day, the great, of the festival" (John 7:37). Greek megalê ('great') corresponds to Hebrew rabbah. The last day of Sukkot was its climax. Throughout the seven days of the festival a special priest (cohen) had carried water in a gold pitcher from the Pool of Siloam to be poured into a basin at the foot of the altar by the high priest (cohen hagadol). It symbolized prayer which begins the next day; and it also pointed toward the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the people of Israel.

The rabbis associated the custom with Isaiah 12:3, "With joy shall you draw water from the wells of salvation". On the seventh day the water pouring was accompanied by priests blowing gold trumpets, Levites singing sacred songs, and ordinary people waving their palm leaves and chanting the praises (Psalms 113-118), which includes in its closing verses:

"Adonai, please save us! [Hebrew Hoshana]
Adonai, please prosper us!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of Adonai!
We have blessed you out of the house of Adonai.
God is Adonai, and he bas given us light
" (Psalm 118:25-27).

The words, "Please save us!" led to the day's being called Hoshana Rabbah, the Great Hosanna. This prayer had Messianic overtones, as is seen from its use when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem a few days before his execution (Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9-10). It was also a prayer for salvation from sin, for Hoshana Rabbah was understood to be the absolutely final chance to have one's sins for the year forgiven. On Rosh-Hoshanah one asks to "be inscribed in the Book of Life" (see Revelation 20:12), and on Yom-Kippur one hopes to have that inscription "sealed"; yet in Jewish tradition there remained opportunity for forgiveness up to Hoshana Rabbah.

Front this passage we also learn that Jesus and his disciples, like other Jews, observed at least portions of the Oral Torah and did not utterly reject it as "traditions of men" (see Mark 7:5-13) - since the water-drawing ceremony is specified not in the Tanakh but in the Mishnah.

It was in the midst of this water pouring, trumpet blasting, palm waving, psalm chanting and ecstatic joy on the part of people seeking forgiveness - and in the presence of all 24 divisions of the priesthood (see Luke 1:5) - that Jesus cried out in the Temple courts, "If anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to me and drinking! Whoever trusts in me, as the Tanakh says, rivers of living water will flow from his inmost being!" Compare Isaiah 44:3, 55:1, 58:11; also the woman at the well (John 4:6-15); and the ultimate fulfilment at Revelation 22:17. In effect Jesus was declaring, "I am the answer to your prayers". His dramatic cry, supported by the full panoply of Temple was not misunderstood, as verses 40-43 make abundantly clear. His subsequent proclamation, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12), also based on the passage of Psalm 118 quoted above, provoked an even more agitated reaction (John 8:58-59).