Emily Post, the guru of entertaining and etiquette, wrote “The joy of joys is the person of light but unmalicious humor. You will, if you are wise, do everything you can to make him prefer your house and your table to any other; for where he is, the successful party is also.” Successful entertaining isn’t easy. There’s so much to consider: how the house will look, how the personalities of the guests will blend, what foods will be served (with which allergies avoided), the logistics of cleanup, and the list goes on.
Especially with all of the holidays in our tradition, it comes as no surprise that welcoming guests,Hachnasat Orchim, is a Jewish value, and its roots go back all the way to Avraham and Sarah welcoming the messengers to their tent. We welcome guests to our home as a sign of openness and blessing. The Talmud even teaches in Brachot that the guests have an obligation to bless their hosts. The festival of Sukkot, which is now upon us, is a holiday of welcoming guests to join us in our open and temporary dwellings, though the logistics are a bit out of the ordinary.
Like other holidays, we have blessings for the wine, the challah, and lighting the candles. But we are also commanded during this time to sit – leyshev – in the sukkah, the temporary hut, outdoors, away from the comfortable couch in whatever weather we might have at the time. Sukkot is also unique in that before we recite Kiddush, we insert a special prayer that invites heavenly guests to join us on this day. These guests are called the Ushpizin.
The Ushpizin come from the central text of Jewish Mysticism known as the Zohar, and asks us to consider inviting, along with our living guests, seven “heavenly” guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. Modern traditions also include inviting the women, or Ushpizot: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah and Ruth. These guests are primarily meant to remind us of our history and the great deeds that each of these ancestors took upon themselves, but they remind us of so much more. They recall our covenant with God and implore us not only to link one generation to the next, but to help us see the truth of who we are as human beings and remember the model set before us for righteousness and leadership.
Sukkot certainly has more themes than I’ve mentioned here, but the one that really speaks to me this year is the sense of community at its core. We are commanded to not only sit in our temporary huts, but to share our culture, traditions and practice with others. Inviting guests to our home offers us an opportunity to not only fulfill a Mitzvah, but to share culture and learn about one another. In a similar way, building a community is about sitting together and learning from one another. Sukkot gives us a moment in time when our brick and mortar boundaries are gone, and our minds and hearts are open to learn and to share.
ללמוד To Learn: ללמד To Teach: Each night of Sukkot have a discussion with your family, whether inside the Sukkah or just outside in your yard, about the theme related to the Ushpizin of the evening. (Steinberg, Paul. Celebrating the Jewish Year: The Fall Holidays. 2007)
Parents of Faith
Transmitters of Legacy and Foundation
Progenitors of Israel
Nurturers of the Past and Caretakers of the Future
Leaders of Freedom
Harbingers of Peace
Seventh (Hoshanah Rabah)
Living Legacies of Israel for the Past, Present & Future
For next year, remember to contact Rabbi Posen to find out how to build a sukkah yourselves!
לשמור To Keep: לעשות To Do: Invite friends to share in a meal with you. Sukkot reminds us how temporary housing is for some. Volunteer as a family in a soup kitchen.