In Honor of the Holy Breslaver’s Yahrtzeit
Xerxes was furious. His engineers had constructed a bridge across the Hellespont in 480 BC, and an act of God had taken out the bridge. Xerxes blamed both the sea and the hapless engineers:
“As soon as the strait had been bridged, a great storm fell upon it and cut the cables and broke them up. Xerxes commanded that the sea should be punished by lashing, branding, and cursing the water, and that the men who had supervised the bridging of the Hellespont should have their heads cut off.” (Herodotus, Histories 7.35)
I know exactly how Xerxes felt. The traffic lights in Manhattan were designed to turn red just before I reach an intersection, but only when I am in a terrible rush to an important appointment. Whoever programmed those lights would suffer the fate of Xerxes’ engineers, and the traffic signals would suffer the fate of the sea as it suffered Xerxes’ wrath. He may have been a despot, perhaps even insane, but Xerxes would have known how to deal with such aggravation.
If Xerxes could punish the sea, I can castigate the holes in my pockets that scheme to lose the quarters I need to feed a parking meter just ahead of the parking police. You know that person just ahead of you in line at Starbucks taking their time making a simple decision just because you are in a rush? Call in Xerxes! People who call to chat just as you are waiting for an important call; Xerxes for them!
I’m feeling better already. You may laugh, but I have watched people use the Xerxes approach with their Hoshanot – Bundle of Willows struck 7 times on the ground – on Hoshana Rabbah! They do a perfect Xerxes impersonation! At least my Xerxes fantasies are directed against real and dangerous enemies.
What are we doing when we strike our Hoshanot against the ground? The Radbaz (Ta’amei Hamitzvot) prefers that we a) use the same Aravot (Willows?) the entire Festival, and b) that we take the Aravot from our Lulav and add them to three fresh Aravot. The week old Aravot may look shabby in comparison, but they have been empowered by a week of prayers and being used as part of the Mitzvah of the Four Species. They are the strongest of the five willow branches.
A person must first recognize and appreciate the power of the two older Aravot to empower the three fresher branches, before he can effectively use his Hoshanot bundle! We begin by honoring the effect of our prayers and Mitzvot on the week old Aravot. We then use their power to raise the three fresh branches. Once we are aware of those powers, we are ready to confront the things that bring up the wrath of Xerxes: Our self-defeating patterns of behavior.
We do not strike in anger or frustration. Hitting the ground with five willow branches will no more destroy evil than Xerxes lashing, branding and cursing the sea hurt the water. We understand and celebrate that we have spiritual strength and power, and, as the Holy Breslaver taught: “If you have the ability to damage, you have the ability to fix!” (Likkutei Eitzot – Erech Tefillah: 3 Tikkunim of Prayer)
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