The Ushpizin: Exalted Entourage in our Sukkah

On what is the custom of inviting seven special guests to the Sukkah based?

Rabbanit Shira Smiles

Judaism Young women study Torah
Young women study Torah
Flash 90
Summary of Torah Lecture written by Channie Koplowitz Stein

There is a well known custom of inviting seven special guests, seven shepherds of our nation, into our succot, one on each night of the holiday of Succot. What is this custom based on?

The Torah commands, You shall dwell in booths for a seven day period; every native in Israel shall dwell in booths. Our Sages pick up on the seeming redundancy with several explanations. The Otzar Hatorah quotes the idea that first the great tzadikim, righteous ones, are commanded to sit in the succot, and then they are to be joined by all of Israel.

The Zohar adds a different, somewhat cryptic, interpretation. The Zohar claims that the subject of the first sit is seven days  The seven days shall sit and then be joined by all of Bnei Yisroel, the Children of Israel. According to the Zohar, each of these special shepherds of our people, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moshe, Aaron and David, is considered a day to which the holiday is dedicated, and all of Israel then joins them.

We are met with two great questions. First, do these shepherds actually come to grace our succot as guests, and how do we incorporate that concept to  impact our celebration? Second, why do we invite these special guests on Succot rather than on Pesach, the other seven day holiday?

The Chida suggests we light an extra candle, or perhaps seven candles, in honor of our special guest on each night of Succot, as well as some put up a poster welcoming our guests, while Rabbi Yaakov Hillel quoting the Chida  presents a more practical approach. If we have invited our guest, we should have a special chair designated for our guest in the succah, similar to the chair designated for Eliyahu Hanavi whom we invite to every bris.   The minhag, custom, is to decorate this chair to designate its specialness; some have the custom to put sifrei kodesh  on this chair. In fact, notes Nitei Gavriel, there is an allusion to Eliyahu from Tishbi, the prophet, in the command for the holidayBesuccot teshvu shivat yamim, whose initials are an acronym for Tishbi.   Some have a special chair for him as well.

Naturally, with such exalted guests, writes the writes the Otzrot Hatorah citing the Shlah Hakodosh, we must practice decorum in the succah, and keep our speech Torah based so our guests will feel comfortable. And the Belzer Rebbe adds that the great wives of these leaders accompany them as our guests. After all, writes the Netivot Shalom, the Slonimer Rebbe, they have come from Gan Eden, a place of total spirituality to visit us on this physical earth. That is one of the reasons they can only come to a temporary abode like the succah. While the walls of our permanent homes absorb all the improper speech and untoward behavior of the entire year, writes the Minchas Michoel, the walls of the succah are inherently holy, and the schach is the shade of the protection of G-d, Hakodosh Boruch Hu. That we are under the direct shade and protection of Hakodosh Boruch Hu is the reason for the custom of sleeping in the succah, writes Rabbi Wolfson in Emunat Etecha.

By contemplating the symbolism of the succah, we can gather further insight into the propriety of the succah as the place to invite these special guests. Rabbi Leff reminds us that that the walls of the succah represent the clouds of glory that surrounded us at Sinai and then descended on the Mishkan. As such, they represented the bond between the physical and the spiritual. The clouds, like the succah, are a temporary manifestation of Gods presence, and we can achieve that state through our service to Him.

The ultimate bond, however, is achieved in the World to Come from where our guests have come to visit us on this holiday. When we sit in the succah, we are basking in the joy of being in Gods presence. Therefore, if one experiences discomfort while in the succah, one is exempt from sitting there, while one should attempt to live in the succah, catching up on ones reading and Torah study, in this holy environment.

The Netivot Shalom brings a compelling argument for inviting these shepherds/guests at this time of year. While the covenant between Hashem and Bnei Yisroel was originally forged at Sinai and the Clouds of Glory surrounded us at that time, that covenant is renewed every year when the world is recreated on Rosh Hashanah. Then we can again draw His presence down to us as we try to repair the world anew.

Each of these leaders renewed something in the world. Avraham brought back monotheism and Yitzchak repurified the world, for example. Each year as the world is being recreated, we draw upon these characteristics to help us repair the world, and we ask that these seven come down and impart their energies to us as individuals so that we can work on our mission as Gods nation. We do not need their help on Pesach, but on Succot, when weve just started rebuilding the world, we can use their help with chessed and gevurah, kindness and courage, and all the other traits they embody.

These shepherds represent role models for us, for each of them faced many challenges and rose above them. Avraham faced ten tsts, nisyonot, while Yitzchak faced family challenges, Yosef was in exile, in prison, and a great statesman, yet each overcame the accompanying challenges. Rabbi Gamliel in Tiv Hamoadim points out that nisayon can be a test or challenge, a banner of victory, or flight.

These ancient leaders of our nation point the way to the proper response to the challenges we face in our lives, and we can draw on their strength. As Rabbi Pincus says, on Succot we enter a different dimension, and these ushpizin help us jump start this new realm.

There is an air of kedushah in the succah, a bubble of kedushah we want to envelop us all the time. We invite the ushpizin because we want friends and neighbors such as they are who can help us and inspire  us.

Succot is called Zman Simchateinu, the season of our joy, for it is the only holiday the Torah commands us multiple times to be joyous. Otzrot Hatorah cites the Zohar who picks up on this nomenclature. Every time we celebrate a simcha, we are joined by our parents, and Hashem brings the departed souls of the previous generations to celebrate with us. On Succot, the season of our joy, we invite these seven spiritual ancestors to join us in our simcha.

But these guests dont eat. How can we then acknowledge their presence as our guests? By inviting the poor to our succah or giving them financial, spiritual, or emotional support we are taking what we would otherwise offer these guests and give it to others. If you keep your celebration focused only on yourselves, the ushpizin want no part of it and leave. After all, notes the Tallelei Chaim, the whole concept of ushpizin is inviting guests. Your spiritual high must be grounded in reality and must include those less fortunate. And the Torah specifically enumerates all the people who may or may not be alone, but who should rejoice with you. It is, after all, Chag Heosif, the holiday of gathering the wheat, but the gathering should not be limited to produce, but should include gathering people together in joy.

The seven days of Succot are not only days, but also concepts and spheres of qualities inherent in all of Bnei Yisroel. Each of the ushpizin represents one of these qualities  chessed, bashfulness, compassion, Torah, Priesthood, righteousness, and teshuvah. Every day of Succot, one of these characteristics becomes more accessible for us to focus on, writes Mipi Seforim Vesofrim. Rabbi Leibel Eiger notes that particularly if someone bears the same name as the ushpizin of that day, he has a special opportunity to focus and train himself in that trait.

So let us make our special guests feel welcome. Make each one the center of the conversation of the night dedicated to him, suggests Halekach Vehalebuv. The point of Succot is to give hope to people, for just as the anenei hakovod, the Clouds of Glory, surrounded us in the desert, so does Hashems presence surround us throughout our lives, and He sends down some great mentors and role models to help us on our journey.

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