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    Off with his head

    Illustrating Hoshana Rabbah, the 7th day of Sukkot, old books of Jewish customs show a man with no head or hand. He is holding the willow twigs which are part of the Hoshana Rabbah ritual, and beside him is another man with willow twigs.

    Does this mean that the man with the head used his willows to knock off the head of his companion, or that the headless man knocked off his own head?

    The books explain that this is the day when God’s decision about our fate, made on Yom Kippur, becomes known by looking at our shadow.

    If our head is not visible, then the decree indicates that we have no future at all; if the shadow of the right hand is missing, it is a bad sign for our sons, and if the left hand cannot be seen, the problem will be with our daughters.

    All very quaint, but it has a rational side.

    We all yearn to know our fate, but Judaism is not as fatalistic as some other traditions. Our concept is that to a large extent at least we are captains of our own destiny and we can influence our future by the wise use of our heads and hands.

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