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The Ushpizin

The Ushpizin


Who and What Are the Ushpizin

“Ushpizin” is Aramaic for “guests,” a reference to the seven supernal guests, “founding fathers” of the Jewish people, who come to visit us in the sukkah (the branch-covered hut in which we eat our meals throughout the festival of Sukkot), one for each of the seven days of the festival:

  • Day one: Abraham
  • Day two: Isaac
  • Day three: Jacob
  • Day four: Moses
  • Day five: Aaron
  • Day six: Joseph
  • Day seven: David1

Translated into English, the word “ushpizin” loses some of its mystery and otherworldliness. Yet these “guests” are indeed quite mysterious (at least until we learn more about them) and otherworldly (at least until we make them part of ours). We use the Aramaic term because our source of information about these mystical guests is from the Zohar, the fundamental Kabbalistic work written in that mystical language.

Sukkot Guests

Guests are an important part of the Jewish home all year round—there were even Jews who would never partake of a meal in their own home unless there was at least one guest, preferably a needy wayfarer, with whom to share it—but especially on Shabbat, and even more especially on the Jewish festivals (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, etc.). On the festivals, there is a special mitzvah (divine commandment), “One who locks the doors of his courtyard, and . . . does not feed the poor and the embittered soul—this is not the joy of a mitzvah, but the joy of his belly . . .”“You shall rejoice on your festival” (Deuteronomy 16:14), and, our sages explain, the only true joy is shared joy. Indeed, the verse in full reads: “You shall rejoice in your festival—you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow who are within your cities.” In the words of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Festivals 6:18): “When one eats and drinks, one must also feed the stranger, the orphan, the widow and other unfortunate paupers. But one who locks the doors of his courtyard, and eat and drinks with his children and wife but does not feed the poor and the embittered soul—this is not the joy of a mitzvah, but the joy of his belly . . .”

If guests are integral to festival joy, they are even more so to Sukkot. Sukkot is the festival of Jewish unity; in fact, the Talmud states that “it is fitting that all Jews should sit in one sukkah.”2 If this is logistically difficult to arrange, it should, at the very least, be implemented in principle. We cram as many guests as possible into our sukkah, demonstrating that we fully intend to implement the Jewish communal sukkah to the full extent of our ability, each in our own domain. There is even a story told about a certain chassidic master who, because he lacked a guest, the Patriarch Abraham refused to enter his sukkah (why Abraham was there—more on that later).

The Kabbalah of the Ushpizin

And so we come to the ushpizin. As we fill our sukkah with earthly guests, we merit to host seven supernal guests. While all seven ushpizin visit our sukkah on each of the seven nights and days of Sukkot,3 each supernal “guest” is specifically associated with one of the festival’s seven days, and is the “leading” or dominant ushpiza for that night and day.4

The Kabbalists Translated into English, the word loses some of its mystery and otherworldlinessteach that these seven leaders—referred to in our tradition as the “seven shepherds of Israel”—correspond to the seven sefirot, or divine attributes, which categorize G‑d’s relationship with our reality, and which are mirrored in the seven basic components of our character (man having been created “in the image of G‑d”).

As each supernal “guest” graces our sukkah, he empowers us with the particular quality that defines him. This is the deeper reason that they are called the “shepherds of Israel,” for like a shepherd who provides nourishment for his flock, these seven leaders nourish us their spiritual essence: Abraham feeds us love; Isaac, self-discipline; Jacob, harmony and truth; and so on.

And while these seven great souls are our “shepherds” all year round, the seven days of Sukkot are a time when their presence in our lives is more pronounced and revealed. As we enter the “temporary dwelling” of the sukkah, freeing ourselves from the dependence we developed on the material comforts of home and hearth, we are now in a place in which our spiritual self is more revealed and accessible. In this place the ushpizin visit us, empowering us to connect the seven dimensions of our own soul’s “divine image” with its supernal source in the divine sefirot, feeding, nourishing and fortifying our spiritual self for the material year to come.

The seven sefirot, or divine energies, we are fed by the ushpizin are:

Day Sefirah Ushpiz
First day Chessed: the attribute of “Benevolence” or “ Love Abraham
Second day Gevurah: “Restraint” and “Discipline” Isaac
Third day Tiferet: “Beauty,” “Harmony” and “Truth” Jacob
Fourth day Netzach: “Victory” and “Endurance” Moses
Fifth day Hod: ”Splendor” and “Humility” Aaron
Sixth day Yesod: “Foundation” and “Connection” Joseph
Seventh day Malchut: “Sovereignty,” “Receptiveness” and “Leadership” David
Chronologically, the order would be: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David; in many communities, the ushpizin are welcomed into the sukkah in the order in which they historically lived upon our earth. However, when aligned with the supernal sefirot (divine attributes) which they embody and represent, Joseph, who represents the sefirah of yesod, follows Aaron, who represents hod.
Talmud, Sukkah 27b.
This can be compared with the fact that each sefirah incorporates within it elements of all seven.
In the Jewish calendar, the day begins at nightfall and extends to the following evening. Thus, Shabbat begins Friday evening at sunset and ends at nightfall on Saturday; the same is the case with the festival. Thus, Abraham is the leading ushpiza for the first night of Sukkot and the day that follows, Isaac graces our sukkah on the second evening of the festival and on the following day, and so on.
Yanki Tauber served as editor of
Image by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms. Brombacher’s art, click here.
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Larry Ficks April 21, 2017

This was part of my Bar Mitzvah Torah portion. 1956. Your discussion and explanation of the sukkah has given me a lot more understanding then the Rabbi did for me 61 years ago.

Thank you for your insights as it relates to the holiday and the movie Ushpizin.

Jenny Florida October 17, 2016

The more I learn about Judaism.. The more I like it. I love that these holidays give us opportunities for self growth and to refine qualities that already abide somewhere in our souls. Thank you for this added insight that can help me to better understand and make the most out of Sukkot and the Sukkah experience. Also cool how it all seems connected as one big journey. Reply

Thea Lorraine ,N.Y. September 21, 2013

7 foundling fathers . Thank you for the insights . into them and for all you are teaching me . Reply

Chris Potgieter Cape Town, WESTERN CAPE September 11, 2012

The Ushpizin As a non Jewish grandfather of a Jewish granddaughter I offer my thanks for the information contained here as I can assist with her gathering of knowledge of who she is. Reply

YBR Passaic, NJ October 2, 2009

Rebbes same question, that's what I asked google. Reply

Anonymous Copenhagen, Denmark via September 15, 2009

Ushpizin The film Ushpizin is very good, you can get it on a DVD Reply

s September 23, 2007

the rebbe's you should write also about the chassidic Ushpizin... Reply

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