Ushpizin: Welcoming Guests

A ritual inviting symbolic guests into the Sukkah

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The Sephardim (Jews of Spanish or Mediterranean ancestry), who often set aside a special chair laden with holy books for the ushpizin, invite the patriarchs, then the leaders/prophets (Moses and Aaron), then royalty (Joseph and David). They often send provisions to the poor along with a note saying, "This is the share of the ushpizin."Recently, it has become popular in some circles to invite matriarchs and other important women of Israel--Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Leah, Miriam, Abigail, and Esther--either paired with the men or on their own.

sukkot quiz

In addition to serving as a reminder of our duty to the poor (it is said that the ushpizin would refuse to enter a sukkahwhere the poor are not welcome), each of these exalted personages represents uprootedness. (Abraham left his father's home for the land God promised to show him [Genesis 12:1], Isaac went to Gerar during a famine [Genesis 26:1], Jacob fled from his brother Esau to the habitat of Laban [Genesis 28:2], Joseph was sold to merchants and taken to Egypt [Genesis 37:23-36], Moses fled to Midian after inadvertently killing an Egyptian [Exodus 2:11-15] and he and Aaron wandered the Sinai for forty years [beginning with Exodus 13], and David hid from Saul in the wilderness [ISamuel 20, 21].)

Each in his wanderings contributed to the world through a respective personal characteristic: lovingkindness, strength, splendor, glory, holiness, eternity, sovereignty. Reflecting the periods of homelessness and wandering in their lives, our temporary dwellings can inspire us to emulate the benefits they brought to the world. Many people put up plaques or pictures of the ushpizin,containing the blessing and scenes from their lives. (Laminated ones are available in Jewish supply stores.)

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Lesli Koppelman Ross is a writer and artist whose works have appeared nationally. She has devoted much of her time to the causes of Ethiopian Jewry and Jewish education.