Jewish Calendar - Sukkot - Ushpizin

The seven guests
Seven righteous ancestors of the Jewish people — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David — are "invited" as special guests (ushpizin) in our sukkah during the seven days of Tabernacles. Ushpizin is an Aramaic word meaning guests; there are those who claim it is related to the Latin hospes, ("guest"). It has become accepted practice to decorate the sukkah wall with a plaque bearing an inscription including the names and depictions of the seven guests.

Welcoming the seven guests[1] grew out of the kabbalistic tradition. It was the great 16th-century mystic of Safed, Rabbi Isaac Luria (Ha-Ari or The Lion), who instructed that on each of the seven nights of Sukkot one of the great Biblical leaders be invited into the sukkah. Accordingly to kabbalistic thought, each of these seven men evoked or represented one of the sefirot, the mystical aspects and emanations of God. Of the ten sefirot, these seven are in contact with the created world — hesed (loving kindness, gevurah (power), tiferet (beauty), nezah (endurance), hod (glory), yesod (foundation), malchut (majesty). Rabbi Luriah taught that through these seven physical emanations, personified in the seven great guests, one can reach up to the unfolding aspects of God's presence in the world.

The spiritual guest of each day is invited before the meal and the following text is recited:

"May it be Your will, Lord my God and God of my fathers, to send Your presence to swell in our midst and to spread over us the sukkah of Your peace, to encircle us with the majesty of Your pure and holy radiance. Give sufficient bread and water to all who are hungry and thirsty. Give us many days to grow old upon the earth, the holy earth, that we may serve You and revere You. Blessed by the Lord forever - amen, amen. I invite to my meal the exalted guests — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David."

On each night another guests is addressed, for example: "Abraham, my exalted guest, may it please you to have all the exalted guests join me and you — Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David." Moroccan Jews have a special compilation of prayers in honor of the ushpizin, called Hamad Elohim, from which special sections are recited each day of the festival.

Ushpizin decoration
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Ushpizin decoration
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Tikkun olam (repairing the world)
Luria's kabbalistic custom was adopted by the Hasidim; many pamphlets entitled Seder-Ushpiz, including liturgy based upon the practices of certain hasidic masters, began to be published in the 19th century. One such practice was that of Rabbi Hayyim Halberstam of Sandz,[2] known for his great generosity.

The Rebbe of Sandz understood that the sainted seven ushpizin would undoubtedly refuse to dwell in a booth where the poor were not welcome. He therefore increased the amount of charity he gave before Sukkot, urging his disciples to invite indigent persons to celebrate the festival in one's sukkah. He explained: "It is incumbent upon everyone to adorn the sukkah, which I have not done properly. Is there any more beautiful ornament for the sukkah than the distribution of charity to those who do not have the means to be glad in the 'Season of Our Rejoicing?'"


[1] Zohar, 5:103b. According to the Zohar Joseph comes after Moses and Aaron, but in most Ashkenazi mahzorim and prayer books the order is chronological. [back]
[2] 1793-1876; founded the Hasidic Halberstam dynasty in western Galicia in the mid-19th century. He was an exponent of the ecstatic mode of prayer and developed the hasidic melody. In his writings he emphasized the duty of charity and criticized zaddikim who lived luxuriously.


Images courtesy of Gross Family Collection,Tel Aviv

excerpted From: Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1972)
Arthur Waskow, Seasons of our Joy: A Celebration of Modern Jewish Renewal (Bantam, 1982).
Philip Goodman, The Sukkot/Simhat Torah Anthology (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1988)
excerpted The Mystical Crown of the Holy King

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