Tonight we begin the Festival of Sukkot, our Fall Harvest Extravaganza! In our day and time this is a most overlooked by liberal Jews. With so much emphasis on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur the rest of the High Holy Days- Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabbah, Simchat Torah are often passed by. In the ancient days this festival was known as THE FESTIVAL. Even though Passover and Shavuot are also Festivals, Sukkot was widely celebrated and very important.
I particularly love Sukkot in contrast with Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is introspective and a fast day. Sukkot is a week of welcoming everyone to your table for feasting. It is the ultimate dinner party holiday. Not Passover but Sukkot is a week of entertaining in the Sukkah, welcoming family and friends and even our ancestors through the ancient ceremony of Ushpizin.
Ushpizin is an Aramaic word for guests. We welcome not only real guests into the hospitality of our Sukkah but ancient guests. Traditionally each of the days of Sukkot we welcome the soul of a different ancestor beginning on the first night with Abraham, second night, Isaac, third night Jacob, fourth night Moses, fifth night Aaron, sixth night Joseph, and seventh night King David! Each of these seven leaders of our people are present each night but one leader is highlighted. According to the Zohar, Emor 103a, their souls actually leave Gan Eden to partake in the Divine light of the earthly Sukkot.
This welcoming of the Ushpizin is a very mystical custom. Several Jewish mystical texts explain that each of the seven Ushpizin correspond to a fundamental spiritual pathway (sefirah) through which the world is metaphysically nourished and perfected (Derech Hashem 3:2:5, Zohar Chadash, Toldot 26c; cf. Zohar 2:256a).
Abraham represents love and kindness (Chesed); Isaac represents restraint and personal strength (Gevurah). Jacob represents beauty and truth (Tifferet). Moses represents eternality and dominance through Torah (Netzach) Aaron represents empathy and receptivity to divine splendor (Hod)Joseph represents holiness and the spiritual foundation (Yesod) David represents the establishment of the kingdom of Heaven on Earth (Malchut).
In the period of counting the Omer between Passover and Shavuot, each week is dedicated to one of these same sefirot but each characteristic of the Tree of Life appears in every week. Just as each guest representing one of the sefirot is welcomed into the sukkah on a particular day as the leader but all are present every day!
In our day and time it is also customary to welcome Ushpiziot , women leaders of our people including, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel &Leah, Miriam, Hulda, Devorah and Esther.
Come into the Sukkah at Temple this week. Bring you lunch during the day, or one of the many events in the Sukkah this week. Your ancestors await you!