One it happened that the seventh day of Sukkos fell on Shabbos. Bundles of aravos were brought before Shabbos and left in the Azarah [of the Mikdash]. The Baysusim [who opposed the Chachamim] found those aravos, took them, and buried them under rocks. The next day the theft was discovered by amei ha’aretz, a group of ignorant Jews. They seized the aravos and brought them to the Kohanim, who stood them next to the Altar. (Sukkah 43b)
Unlike the esrog, lulav, and hadasim, that all have taste or fragrance, the aravah has no distinguishing features -- it is like the am ha’aretz who is bereft of good deeds or Torah knowledge. Our enemies think that the aravah can be tossed under a rock, ripped from the community and not missed. Yet, on this day of Hoshana Rabbah the rock is overturned and the aravah is taken and placed in a position of honor alongside the mizbeiach.
Why do we focus on the aravah on this final day of the days of judgment? Beseeching G-d to grant us favor in the merit of good deeds or Torah learning, symbolized by the lulav, hadasim, and aravos, risks begging the question of whether our deeds or Torah study truly measure up and are worthy of blessing. The aravah runs no such risk – the aravah knows that he/she is unworthy. But the aravah asks for G-d’s favor anyway. Even sans all other virtue, the very act of turning to G-d, of asking, is sometimes all that it takes.
Hoshana Rabbah reminds us that Hashem’s love for Klal Yisrael is not dependent on what we do, but who we are. When those dusty aravos are plucked out from the rock they were buried under, they may not smell pretty, they may not look pretty, but they still can be placed alongside the mizbeiach and be deserving of Hashem’s love – and ours.