Ushpizin and Ushpizot: Welcoming Guests
About 700 years ago, the Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) instituted a practice of inviting ushpizin (celestial guests) to join us in the sukkah. The Kabbalists imagined that we could welcome a specific set of seven male, Biblical characters to celebrate this holiday of joy with us. These figures were chosen because of their importance in Jewish tradition and because these particular characters represent Kabbalistic spiritual attributes. Over the years, this list of ushpizin—male guests—has been expanded to include ushpizot—female guests—as well. Though there is some debate over which female guests are on the “official” ushpizot list, we have adopted the tradition of using the collection of female characters that the Talmud identifies as being gifted with prophecy (Megillah 14a-14b).
According to Kabbalah, God’s essence is poured into 10 vessels known as the “sefirot” (spiritual attributes; “sefirah” in the singular). These vessels each amplify a particular aspect of the One God, and each pair of ushipizin and ushpizot guests is matched with a specific sefirah. Because human beings are created in the Divine Image, these spiritual attributes live within us as well. Inspired by the example of our ancestors, we can heighten our awareness of how we manifest these characteristics and focus on cultivating them and balancing their energies.
As we invite these guests into the sukkah, we also invite the very spiritual attributes associated with them. This Sukkot, we encourage you to dig a little deeper and explore your own relationship to these qualities.