GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER?
It is a custom to welcome a special guest from our past on each night of Sukkot. As a reward for faithfully dwelling in the sukkah, the Jewish people merit the privilege of inviting the Divine presence along with His seven "faithful shepherds".
It is a custom to welcome a special guest from our past on each night of Sukkot. As a reward for faithfully dwelling in the sukkah, the Jewish people merit the privilege of inviting the Divine presence along with His seven "faithful shepherds". These ushpizin (Aramaic for guests) descend from their heavenly abode to stop by our sukkah. Who are these select few? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. On each day of the festival, another one of the ushpizin leads his six exalted companions, and we welcome them by reciting a short paragraph from the prayer book.
During the festival of Sukkot, we leave the protection of our permanent dwellings and bask in the shade and safety of the Divine presence. Each of the seven ushpizin exemplified this idea during their lifetime. For instance, Abraham left the security of his father's home and went off on a long journey, protected only by Hashem. Isaac left his home and dwelt amongst the Philistines. Jacob was forced to leave his home and move in with his sinister uncle, Laban, where he spent much of his life in exile.
Another reason why these seven are chosen as the ushpizin is because each one represents another character trait of Hashem. Abraham epitomized the Divine trait of chesed (loving kindness), Isaac personified the quality of gevurah (spiritual strength), Jacob with the quality of tiferet (spiritual glory), and so on. It is these traits which we try to internalize within ourselves as we continually strive to live up to our potential as creations b'tzelem Elokim, in the image of G-d.
The commentaries quote the custom to invite seven poor guests to correspond to the seven ushpizin. You then have seven heavenly visitors and seven guests of flesh and blood, with G-d's presence hovering over them all. The joyous season of Sukkot comes just as the farmers harvest the fruits of their labors, and the poor person has nothing with which to celebrate. Specifically at this time, Hashem commands us to leave our homes and dwell in a sukkah for seven days where we are all guests of Hashem. In the shelter of the sukkah, there is no difference between the wealthy and the poor. We are all dwelling under the protection of the Almighty.
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