Ushpizin connects us to all our ancestors, real and imagined…
One of the SukkotLit. Booths or huts Sukkot is the autumn harvest Festival of Booths, is celebrated starting the 15th of the Jewish month of Tishrei. Jews build booths (sukkot), symbolic of the temporary shelters used by the ancient Israelites when they wandered in the desert. Traditionally, Jews eat and sleep in the sukkah for the duration of the holiday (seven days in Israel and eight outside of Israel). The lulav (palm frond), willow, myrtle, and etrog fruit are also waved together. rituals that gives me pause is the invitation to the ancestors that we are asked to recite when we sit down to a meal in our shacks in the backyard or on the deck. There are competing versions of the list of guests whom we invite; they include patriarchs and matriarchs, priests, prophets and/or biblical heroes and heroines in whose company we would like to have dinner in our humble, often childishly-decorated, scantily-roofed, temporary dwellings. It is a Jewish habit to invite mythic heroes to supper. ElijahElijah is a biblical prophet who is said never to have died. There are therefore many legends associated with Elijah. In the Talmud, unresolved arguments will be resolved when Elijah comes. He will herald the coming of the messiah. In Jewish ritual, Elijah is a liminal figure, arriving at moments of danger and transition – at a brit milah, a chair is put out for him, a cup is poured for Elijah at the Passover seder, and he is invoked at havdalah. His Hebrew name is Eliyahu. comes to each and every sederLit. Order. The festive meal conducted on Passover night, in a specific order with specific rituals to symbolize aspects of the Exodus from Egypt. It is conducted following the haggadah, a book for this purpose. The mystics of Sefat also created a seder for Tu B'shvat, the new year of the trees.; how many Jewish children over the generations have wondered how he manages to handle so much wine or be in so many houses at once (our version of the Santa and milk and cookies logic problem)?
In the homes to which I am invited on Sukkot, some classically formulaic ushpizinLit. Guests (Aramaic) Biblical "guests" invited into the sukkah on each of the seven nights of the holiday. While the traditional ushpizin were all male, a new custom has been created, inviting female guests (ushpizot) as well. The seven ushpizin are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. The seven female ushpizot are Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Abigail, and Esther. invitation is generally followed by a go around the table in which people are asked to supplement the guest list and bring in their own company. And there it is: we invite kids who are away at college, parents in Florida, parents no longer living, great-grandparents, Emma Lazarus, AbrahamAbraham is the first patriarch and the father of the Jewish people. He is the husband of Sarah and the father of Isaac and Ishmael. God's covenant - that we will be a great people and inherit the land of Israel - begins with Abraham and is marked by his circumcision, the first in Jewish history. His Hebrew name is Avraham. Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi. It is a Jewish ritualized version of “if you could have dinner with anyone … ” game and the sukkahLit. hut or booth A temporary hut constructed outdoors for use during Sukkot, the autumn harvest festival. Many Jews observe the mitzvah of living in the Sukkah for the week of Sukkot, including taking their meals and sleeping in the Sukkah. (often already crowded with bodies) gets crowded with all manner of spirits. And then we eat.
What I love is the reminder that historical time may be linear, but, from a cosmic point of view, there is no timeline. Just as we are taught that there is no before or after in the TorahThe Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general., so we know that even if our march of days on the planet is steady on, in the world of our imagination and in the place where God is, it’s all a soup of souls: Dad keeping company with MosesThe quintessential Jewish leader who spoke face to face with God, unlike any other prophet, and who freed the people from Egypt, led them through the desert for forty years, and received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. His Hebrew name is Moshe., our grandchildren communing with our great-grandparents. That, I think, is the lesson of Elijah’s messianic promise on Pesakh and the lesson of the ushpizin on Sukkot: sustaining connections among the mythic and the historical, the long before and the yet to be. All of which is to say that in the fantasy of grand hospitality, we assume a wide view, a perspective so broad that we must hold our own place lightly and fret less over that which is transient. We must focus more clearly on what and whom we love and admire; who we miss and who we wish for; and the present gifts and inspirations of our lives. And yet for all of our smallness in the scheme of things, we hold ourselves high, ready in an instant to invite AaronBrother of Moses, chosen as Moses' interlocutor. His Hebrew name is Aharon. and MiriamMiriam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. As Moses' and Aaron's sister she, according to midrash, prophesies Moses' role and helps secure it by watching over the young baby, seeing to it that Pharaoh's daughter takes him and that the baby is returned to his mother for nursing. During the Israelites' trek through the desert, a magical well given on her behalf travels with the Israelites, providing water, healing, and sustenance. to our supper table, all the while holding an equally honored spot for the daughter off at school.
Ushpizin is about connection to all the ancestors, real and imagined, and it is about the open table, in an open house—the sukkah—which may be physically fragile, but which goes up year after year, for all these millennia now, all the way back to the days of pilgrimage to the Temple and to the time of the harvest huts in the field. The solidity of tradition girds each fragile hut just as we are held up by the guests in our sukkah—those who drink the wine and those to whom we make our wine a religious offering, gratefully and playfully. Come one, come all.
Lori Hope Lefkovitz is the Ruderman Professor of Jewish Studies at Northeastern University, where she is a professor of English and director of the Jewish Studies program. Her most recent book, In Scripture: The First Stories of Jewish Sexual Identities–a finalist for the 2010 National Jewish Book Awards–is newly available in paperback. Lori was the founding director of Kolot: Center for Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies and a co-creator of ritualwell.org, on which she served as the inaugural executive editor until last year.