Ushpizin: Adding Spirit To Sukkot
By PHILLIP APPLEBAUM
Remember the song, "David,
Melech Yisrael, Chai Ve-Kayam"
("David, King of Israel, Lives
Not only does he still live, but
he's sukkah hopping, right in your
neighborhood. Not only he, but
Abraham, Moses and other heroes
from the Torah.
No, this isn't like sightings of
Elvis. King David and his friends
aren't here in the flesh; their
presence is spiritual. It's all part of
a Sukkot tradition called ushpizin,
an Aramaic word from the Latin
hospes meaning both guest and
The tradition is derived from the
major book of Jewish mysticism, the
Zohar, composed in 13th-century
Spain. According to the Zohar, Jews
who fulfill the divine commandment
to dewll in a sukkah merit a visit
from the "seven faithful shepherds":
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph,
Moses, Aaron and King David. They
correspond to the kabbalistic
concept of sefirot, attributes of
godliness, lovingkindness (chesed),
power (gevurah), beauty (tiferet),
victory (netzach), splendor (hod),
foundation (yesod) and sovereignty
(malchut). The list of sefirot was
inspired by the blessing of King
David recorded in the book of Divrei
HaYamim (I Chronicles 29:11).
All seven shepherds visit every
sukkah every day of the festival.
Each day, one of the seven leads
the others. And you thought Elijah
the Prophet was busy on Pesach!
Like most Jewish customs
derived from mysticism, ushpizin
entered popular practice through
chasidism. In fact, the ushpizin
liturgy and procedures of many
chasidic rebbes were published as
pamphlets in the 19th century.
These days, the ushpizin liturgy
is found in comprehensive prayer
books or in special folders. It is also
printed on plaques that some
people attach to the sukkah.
The liturgy commonly consists
of one or more introductory
paragraphs declaring the host's
dedication to Torah and mitzvot and
imploring God's mercy and
protection for the Jewish people and
the poor. For each day of the
holiday, a sentence is recited
welcoming the exalted visitor and
his companions. It is thus
customary to refer to the first day of
Sukkot as the ushpizin of Abraham,
the second as the ushpizin of Isaac
and so on. Ushpizin last until
Hoshana Rabba, when the guest of
honor is King David.
Both Sephardim and
Ashkenazim observe ushpizin.
Among the Ashkenazim there is a
disagreement over which sefirah is
represented by Joseph. Most prayer
books follow the eastern European
kabbalist, Rabbi Yeshaya ben
Avraham Ha-Levo Horowitz
(1565-1630), whose book, Shnei
Luchot Ha-Brit, places the guests in
chronological order. Others comply
with the 16th-century kabbalist of
Safad, Rabbi Yitzhak ben Shlomo
Luria ("the Ari"), who puts Moses
and Aaron before Joseph.
The Lubavitcher chasidim do
double duty. In addition to the
standard ushpizin, they have
another set of guests consisting of
Yisrael ben Eliezer Ba'al Shem Tov
(1700-1760), the founder of
Chasidism; his successor, Dov Ber,
the Maggid of Mezhirech (died
1772); and the first five Lubavitcher
rebbes (beginning in 1745). They
also extend ushpizin to Shemini
Atzeret (the festival immediately
following Sukkot), when they
welcome the spirit of the previous
rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak
Whichever order you follow, the
walls of your sukkah can be
decorated with representations of
each guest: the tent of Abraham,
Jacob's ladder, David's lyre, and so
on. Because more than one symbol
is associated with the biblical
personalities, there's lots of room for
We can learn valuable ethical
lessons from ushpizin, the foremost
being the mitzva of hachnasat
orchim, hospitality. It is highly
meritorious — and mentchlich — to
invite others, especially the poor
and those who have no sukkah of
their own, to share your table.
Ushpizin also highlights the
importance of respect for our elders
and emphasizes our role as a link
in the 4,000-year-old chain of Jewish
tradition and practice.
The kabbalists tell us that the
"faithful shepherds" derive great
pleasure from being invited down
from Gan Eden (heaven) to observe
their descendants keeping the
mitzva of sukkah; or, as we say in
these parts, they shep naches.
So don't dine alone in your
sukkah. Invite patriarchs, a lawgiver,
a priest and a king. You won't have
to cook extra or make any more
room, and you'll make some old
family members very happy.
Philip Applebaum is a
historiographer and a past president
of Young Israel of Oak-Woods.
Detroit Plans New Survey
The first census of the Jewish
people took place during Hol-
Hamoed Sukkot. Now, at the same
time 3,301 years later, the Jews of
metropolitan Detroit are participating
in a population survey.
Our forefathers' goal was to find
out the size of the population. Our
survey will focus on Jewish
attitudes, interests and needs.
Both the past and the present
survey help to detect the strengths
and needs of our people either
through the size or the homogeneity
of the population.
To carry out the first countings,
each Jew was asked to give half a
shekel, (a shekel being the currency
then in use). In his way, money was
tallied and not people — according
to the Jewish law that individuals
should not be counted directly.
The population survey being
sponsored by the Jewish Welfare
Federation will be conducted
through telephone interviews of
randomly selected households.
Three censuses were taken
during the 40-year span that the
Jews wandered in the desert.
The first occurred on Sukkot,
six months after the Israelites'
exodus from Egypt. The second
took place six months later on
Passover, and the third census
occurred 38 years later, preceding
the two years of war before they
entered the land of Israel.
The results from the surveys
helped the leaders to provide the
proper services for that number of
The first population study to be
conducted here in nearly 40 years,
similarly will help determine what
services our citizens require and will
shape the future direction of our
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS