Include ‘spiritual’ friends on Sukkot guest list

Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

BY RABBI BRIGITTE ROSENBERG

This week, we celebrate Sukkot. It is a festival in which we celebrate and give thanks for the bounty and blessings in our lives and, of course, we get to spend time outdoors as we dwell in sukkot. 

Sukkot is also a festival that celebrates hachnasat orchim, the welcoming of guests.

Sukkot offers us the wonderful opportunity to spend time with family and friends dwelling in our sukkot. Eating, drinking, playing games, studying, talking, etc. Sukkot also offers us the special opportunity to add to our guest list, as we also invite “spiritual” guests, seven of them, to join us each night! 

Ushpizin is a beautiful Kabbalistic tradition in which we welcome these spiritual guests each evening: traditionally, the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David, and matriarchs Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther (or any other biblical woman). 

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Ushpizin allows us the opportunity to reflect on these biblical ancestors and their special qualities. Today, along with our biblical ancestors, I love asking the question of those who are celebrating with me: “If you could invite anyone in history to join us tonight, who would it be and why?” 

This often leads to wonderful discussions and incredible lists of the many guests we are inviting into the sukkah. Sometimes on the guest list are significant Jews from history, famous people of other religions and often family members who are no longer with us. It is always fun to see who is invited in and to talk about why we were so inspired to invite a particular guest. 

Ushpizin also reminds us that we must not forget those who are hungry and in need, as Maimonides taught: “While eating and drinking himself, one is obligated to feed the stranger, orphan and widow, along with the other poor …” (Laws of Yom Tov 6:18).  

As we celebrate our bounty and blessings we cannot forget those who are hungry! During this Sukkot, donate your time and/or resources to a local shelter or food bank.

So, if you could invite anyone from history into your sukkah, who would it be and why?

This Sukkot, may we know the blessing of hachnasat orchim, of welcoming guests into our maidst, and may each of us be inspired and uplifted by our guests, those celebrating with us in person and those who are celebrating in spirit.  

Brigitte Rosenberg is Senior Rabbi at United Hebrew Congregation and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.