Sukkot: Inviting Our Ushpizin

DSCN2298cBy Rabbi Shohama

One Sukkot tradition that I love and is not so well known is the practice of inviting guests who are only in spirit.  Traditionally we invite seven Biblical ushpizin (an ancient Aramaic word for “guests”) into our sukkah during each night of Sukkot.  According to ancient tradition, the seven Biblical ushpizin and their energetic qualities, which “take turns” as the lead guest/quality for each night of Sukkot, are —

  • Abraham, representing love and kindness;
  • Isaac, representing restraint and personal strength;
  • Jacob, representing beauty and truth;
  • Moses, representing eternality and dominance through learning;
  • Aaron, representing empathy and receptivity to divine splendor;
  • Joseph, representing holiness and spiritual foundation; and
  • David, representing the kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

In our day, we can invite these seven ushpizin, but we need not limit ourselves to these particular ancestors.  I have adopted the custom of inviting both female Biblical ancestors, such as Sarah and Miriam, and also my personal ancestors as well.  This broader approach brings me both joy and comfort. My father, my mother, my grandparents, aunts and uncles enhance my experience of Sukkot, which we call zman simchateinu — the “season of our joy.”

For those who don’t have a sukkah to dwell in each night of Sukkot, you can still invite your personal ushpizin, your personal guests in spirit, to join you for the evening.  We end Sukkot with Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, which, like Yom Kippur, is a time for lighting a memorial candle and saying the Yizkor prayers.

May your Sukkot holiday be sweet and joyful.  Chag Sameach!

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