Between ritualized gluttony, ritualized fasting, hours and hours of ritual prayer and almost as many hours of trying to sleep in a Succah (often preceded by even more hours of ritual cursing while trying to build the Succah), the average observant Jew looks and feels vi an opgeshlogene heshayne, a beat-out willow twig, by the time Hoshana Rabba rolls around.

The idiom is based on one of the plants used as part of the Sukkes (or Succoth) ritual. The fifth day of the festival is known as Hoshana Rabba, the great Hoshana, when worshippers recite a large number of supplicatory prayers called Hoshanas (whence the English word Hosanna). When all the Hoshanas have been concluded, each worshipper takes a bundle of five willow twigs (which have come to be called heshaynes by association with the prayers) and strikes it against the ground five times.

By the end of the fifth stroke, these dainty little twigs look even worse than the rooster mentioned in a synonymous idiom, oyszen vi a hon nokh tashmish, “to look like a rooster who’s just trodden his hens.” Yiddish takes the image of the rooster and combines it with the idea of punctilious performance of a religious duty–the sort of thing that still keeps many Jews from a full night’s sleep. The rooster is turned into a Jew, and a Jew–for the sake of this expression–is always losing sleep because there are so many mitsves to fulfill.

This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week. Below are some items for sale from eBay for those of you with an interest in Yiddish.

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