Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Deliver Us!"

Two years ago, I spent three months on bed rest, a month of that in the high-risk maternity ward. My condition threatened the lives of our baby and myself, although thankfully it was painless. The doctors from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit sketched out survival rates and made it clear that every day brought the baby closer to life.

Away from my family, with many of my familiar and favorite activities contraindicated, my various selves and roles sloughed off, narrowing down to an essential few, most prominently, gestator.
As I waited to reach the magic number of weeks, I internalized a new level of patience, appreciating that I had no choice but to operate on G-d’s time, that simply by progressing another day in the pregnancy, I was “doing” something. I suddenly found myself with lots of time for introspection; I devoted more time and concentration to my prayers, instead of my usual cursory prayers as a working mother of a lively household.

On Hoshana Rabbah (the seventh day of Sukkot, the eve of the festival of Shemini Atzeret, considered the final day of the new year’s divine “judgment”) my husband brought me a bunch of willows. One of the primary observances of Hoshana Rabbah is the recitation of the poetic Hoshanot prayer, followed by the taking of a bundle of willows and striking it against the ground, symbolizing the “tempering of harshness.”

I have to confess that I’d never recited the Hoshanot prayers before, busy as I always was with all the physical holiday preparations. As I read through them, I was struck by their beauty, and saw echoes of my own search for surety. “A heavenly voice is heard by all the inhabitants of the earth – the voice heralds: ‘Israel, His people, tended by Him from the womb, has been newly born as a babe from its mother’s loins.’ The voice heralds: ‘She has travailed and given birth to a people that shines forth as the dawn.’
Today is Hoshana Rabbah; yesterday Gilad Shalit returned home. His gauntness and haunted air pains me, even as I rejoice for his rebirth. I can’t begin to imagine what Gilad endured these past five years, but from the little I’ve read and seen, he has deep internal reserves; he said that he never gave up hope on being returned.
I wonder what Gilad learned about himself during his 1,940 days in captivity. Did he think to himself each evening, “I have survived another day,” or, “One day closer to salvation”? Did he pray? I hope that in the days and months ahead, once Gilad returns to full health, he will share his story. I am sure there is much we can learn from him.
As we all search for surety, for the knowledge of G-d’s embrace and protection, I find comfort in the words of the Hoshanot. “Deliver Your people and bless Your heritage; tend them and exalt them forever… Remove the iron barrier that sunders us from You… Seal our judgment in the Book of Good Life.”

For more about these mystical prayers, see here.


  1. Beautiful. Touching and deep.

  2. What a striking image! Your "captivity" for a joyous outcome, Gilad Schalit's captivity with his--finally!- joyous release. And HaShem's care of us all as we pray for our deliverance. Todah rabah for this amazing post.

  3. Mrs. Shollar- As usual, your ability to teach and reach astounds me. Love the pics, love the imagery, love the deep thought that you put into all that you do.