Ushpizin: Who Will You Welcome Into Your Sukkah?

By Emily Walsh | Issue Date: October 2009

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Having just completed the personal reflection period of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiday of Sukkot is a time when we step out of our individual homes and into communal dwellings. The custom of welcoming guests into the sukkah dates back to early Kabbalah literature and is called ushpizin (Aramaic for “guests”). It not only refers to inviting actual guests into one’s sukkah but is also meant to figuratively welcome people from our past.

Tradition teaches that seven guests are “invited” into the sukkah—one for each night of the holiday—and include our biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. Many interpreta- tions also bring in our matriarchs, Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther (often Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Dinah, Tamar, or Ruth can be substituted).

Modern practices include inviting significant Jewish figures from recent history, as well as family and community members who are no longer with us. This is an opportunity to learn from those who came before us and to be inspired to live our lives accordingly.

The custom of ushpizin also teaches that we should “invite” those less fortunate to share in a festive meal. Maimonides taught, “While eating and drinking himself, one is obligated to feed the stranger, orphan, and widow, along with the other unfortunate poor…” (Laws of Yom Tov 6:18). The season of Sukkot reminds us of our obligation to help feed the hungry and to reach out to those in need.

Here are some ways you can “welcome guests” into your sukkah (or home if you do not have your own sukkah) this holiday season:

• Share stories with your children about people that you admired or were important to you.

• Donate your time and/or resources to a local shelter or food bank, such as the BJ/SPSA Shelter.

• Invite another BJ family over for a meal, and get to know each other better!