Ushpizin is one of the most beloved Israeli films. Written by and starring the beloved Israeli actor and musician Shul Rand, the 2004 movie told the story of a devout Bratslav hasidic man, his love of his wife, their prayers for a child, and his checkered past. It was a sensation in America, and in Israel, religious and secular Jews found a shared language. The movie’s title mirrors the Aramaic word for “guests,” specifically the holy guests, ghosts of our narrative history, whom we invite to our Sukkah each of the seven nights of the festival.
The traditional list of guests was exclusively male, and it is wonderful that more recent texts have included women to join them (for example, see pp. 330-333 in Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals). While I am very happy to extend the invitation to these Biblical women, let’s pause to consider the connection between the male guests and the meaning of Sukkot. After all, wouldn’t we want to have Avraham, Yitzhak, Ya’akov, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon and David joining us every Shabbat? Wouldn’t they also make fascinating Seder guests? What’s special about Sukkot that the tradition of Ushpizin is reserved for this holiday?
One answer is found in the mystical roots of the tradition. It’s first mentioned in the Zohar, a product of 13th-century Spain. It was the kabbalists of Tzfat in northern Israel who first attached the idea to Sukkot. They saw each of the seven guests as a representative of one of the sefirot, or mystical divine realms or attributes. Each day meant both inviting a different guest and adding another mystical dimension. But that still doesn’t answer why davka Sukkot!
On Shabbat morning, I’ll suggest another answer, one that has ongoing sacred significance in our day and even in our own part of the world. Hopefully we will consider ways to extend the symbolic hospitality of the Ushpizin ritual to more pressing current needs.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameah,
Rabbi David Wise
Candle lighting: 6:22 PM
Torah Reading: Leviticus 22:26-23:44
Maftir: Numbers 29:12-16
Haftarah: Zechariah 14:1-21