One of the shalosh ha'regalim (שלוש הרגלים, "three pilgrimage festivals"), Sukkot is rich with customs, symbols and a long list of mitzvot to fulfill. Of these mitzvot, hachnasat orchim (הכנסת אורחים, "welcoming guests") and matan tzedakah l'aniyim (מתן צדקה לעניים, "giving tzedakah to the poor") – while important all year round – are given special importance during Sukkot.
Ushpizin: Welcoming Guests
Sukkot is associated with hospitality. We welcome friends, family, and the community into our sukkah and we visit others. We eat, we sleep, we study, and we spend seven days and nights in the company of neighbors and friends.
We also invite Ushpizin (Aramaic for "guests"). According to tradition, each sukkah is blessed with visits by seven honored guests, shepherds of the nation: Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. A more modern tradition is to invite the Ushpizot: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Avigail, Hannah, Huldah, and Esther. The Usphizot were chosen based on the Babylonian Talmud, which lists seven biblical women who were prophetesses.
The Kabbalists teach that each of these guests corresponds to one of the sefirot (ספירות), or divine attributes.
First day: Abraham – Chesed (חסד, "loving-kindness")
Second day: Isaac – Gevurah (גבורה, "strength")
Third day: Jacob – Tiferet (תפארת, "splendor')
Fourth day: Moses – Netzach (נצח, "eternity")
Fifth day: Aaron – Hod (הוד, "glory")
Sixth day: Joseph – Yesod (יסוד, "foundation")
Seventh day: David – Malchut (מלכות, "sovereignty")
And so, while we sit in our temporary dwelling, freeing ourselves from the mundane, everyday reliance on earthly goods and technological accessories, these special biblical guests grace us with their presence, each on his or her designated day, and heighten our connection to our inner self and our spirituality.
Depictions of Ushpizin in Art
As we explore the custom and iconography of Ushpizin in art, we discover that each of these honored guests has a symbol associated with their character and attribute. These symbols, with a few variations, are apparent in both ancient and contemporary designs, most of which were created for Sukkah decorations.
An old poster with nine separate images and Aramaic text of the ushpizin, the Holy Temple and Sukkot.
In 1999, the Israeli Postal Service issued a series of stamps for sukkot featuring the Ushpizin. The drawings are by an unknown 19th century artist from Hungary.
Chimes for the Sukkah by Irene Helitzer
Conjuring the Ushpizin with sweet sound, the artist switches Moses with Devorah the Prophetess.
Cut out wood sukkah decorations of the seven prophetesses by Enya Keshet
Ushpizin in Film – "Ha'Ushpizin" (2004, Dir: Giddi Dar, Writer: Shuli Rand)
We are very fortunate to explore the customs of Sukkot through the eyes and culture of the orthodox sector in Israel. Shuli Rand, a Haredi Jew, wrote and plays the protagonist in this excellent film, winning the Best Actor award from the Israeli Film Academy in 2004.
We wish you a happy holiday and hope you’ll welcome many guests into your sukkah!
Compiled and written by Vavi Toran, Arts & Culture Consultant for the iCenter and the San Francisco-based Bureau of Jewish Education.
More informatoin is availible on the iCenter's High Holiday Resource Compilation page.