Sukkot: Exalted Entourage

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09 Sep 2016

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein

There is a well-known custom of inviting seven special guests, seven shepherds of our nation, into our sukkot, one on each night of Sukkot. What is this custom based on? The Torah commands, “You shall dwell in booths for a seven day period; every native in Israel shall dwell in booths.” Our Sages pick up on the seeming redundancy with several explanations. The Otzar HaTorah quotes the idea that first the great tzadikim are commanded to sit in the sukkot, and then they are to be joined by all of Israel. The Zohar adds a different, somewhat cryptic, interpretation. The Zohar claims that the subject of the first “sit” is seven days – The seven days shall sit and then be joined by all of Bnei Yisrael. According to the Zohar, each of these special shepherds of our people, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moshe, Aaron and David, is considered a day to which the holiday is dedicated, and all of Israel then joins them.

We are met with two great questions. First, do these shepherds actually come to grace our sukkot as guests, and how do we incorporate that concept to impact our celebration? Second, why do we invite these special guests on Sukkot rather than on Pesach, the other seven day holiday?

The Chida suggests we light an extra candle, or perhaps seven candles, in honor of our special guest on each night of Sukkot, as well as some put up a poster welcoming our guests, while Rabbi Yaakov Hillel quoting the Chida presents a more practical approach. If we have invited our guest, we should have a special chair designated for our guest in the sukkah, similar to the chair designated for Eliyahu HaNavi whom we invite to every bris. The minhag is to decorate this chair to designate its specialness; some have the custom to put sifrei kodesh on this chair. In fact, notes Nitei Gavriel, there is an allusion to Eliyahu from Tishbi in the command for the holiday, B’sukkot teishvu shivat yamim, whose initials are an acronym for Tishbi.  Some have a special chair for him as well.

Naturally, with such exalted guests, writes the writes the Otzrot HaTorah citing the Shelah HaKadosh, we must practice decorum in the sukkah, and keep our speech Torah based so our guests will feel comfortable. And the Belzer Rebbe adds that the great wives of these leaders accompany them as our guests. After all, writes the Netivot Shalom, the Slonimer Rebbe, they have come from Gan Eden, a place of total spirituality to visit us on this physical earth. That is one of the reasons why they can only come to a temporary abode like the sukkah. While the walls of our permanent homes absorb all the improper speech and untoward behavior of the entire year, writes the Minchas Michoel, the walls of the sukkah are inherently holy, and the sechach is the shade of the protection of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. That we are under the direct shade and protection of HaKadosh Baruch Hu is the reason for the custom of sleeping in the sukkah, writes Rabbi Wolfson in Emunat Itecha.

By contemplating the symbolism of the sukkah, we can gather further insight into the propriety of the sukkah as the place to invite these special guests. Rabbi Leff reminds us that that the walls of the sukkah represent the clouds of glory that surrounded us at Sinai and then descended on the Mishkan. As such, they represented the bond between the physical and the spiritual. The clouds, like the sukkah, are a temporary manifestation of God’s presence, and we can achieve that state through our service to Him. The ultimate bond, however, is achieved in the World to Come from where our guests have come to visit us on this holiday. When we sit in the sukkah, we are basking in the joy of being in God’s presence. Therefore, if one experiences discomfort while in the sukkah, one is exempt from sitting there, while one should attempt to “live” in the sukkah, catching up on one’s reading and Torah study, in this holy environment.

The Netivot Shalom brings a compelling argument for inviting these shepherds/guests at this time of year. While the covenant between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael was originally forged at Sinai and the Clouds of Glory surrounded us at that time, that covenant is renewed every year when the world is recreated on Rosh Hashanah. Then we can again draw His presence down to us as we try to repair the world anew. Each of these leaders renewed something in the world. Avraham brought back monotheism and Yitzchak repurified the world, for example. Each year as the world is being recreated, we draw upon these characteristics to help us repair the world, and we ask that these seven come down and impart their energies to us as individuals so that we can work on our mission as God’s nation. We do not need their help on Pesach, but on Sukkot, when we’ve just started rebuilding the world, we can use their help with chesed and gevurah and all the other traits they embody.

These shepherds represent role models for us, for each of them faced many challenges and rose above them. Avraham faced ten nisyonot, while Yitzchak faced family challenges, Yosef was in exile, in prison, and a great statesman, yet each overcame the accompanying challenges. Rabbi Gamliel in Tiv Hamoadim points out that nisayon can be a test or challenge, a banner of victory, or flight. These ancient leaders of our nation point the way to the proper response to the challenges we face in our lives, and we can draw on their strength. As Rabbi Pincus says, on Sukkot we enter a different dimension, and these ushpizin help us jump start this new realm.

There is an air of kedusha in the sukkah, a bubble of kedusha we want to envelop us all the time. We invite the ushpizin because we want friends and neighbors such as they are who can help us and inspire us.

Sukkot is called Zman Simchateinu, the season of our joy, for it is the only holiday the Torah commands us multiple times to be joyous. Otzrot HaTorah cites the Zohar who picks up on this nomenclature. Every time we celebrate a simcha, we are joined by our parents, and Hashem brings the departed souls of the previous generations to celebrate with us. On Sukkot, the season of our joy, we invite these seven spiritual ancestors to join us in our simcha. But these guests don’t eat. How can we then acknowledge their presence as our guests? By inviting the poor to our sukkah or giving them financial, spiritual, or emotional support we are taking what we would otherwise offer these guests and give it to others. If you keep your celebration focused only on yourselves, the ushpizin want no part of it and leave. After all, notes the Tallelei Chaim, the whole concept of ushpizin is inviting guests. Your spiritual high must be grounded in reality and must include those less fortunate. And the Torah specifically enumerates all the people who may or may not be alone, but who should rejoice with you. It is, after all, Chag Ha’asif, the holiday of gathering the wheat, but the gathering should not be limited to produce, but should include gathering people together in joy.

The seven days of Sukkot are not only days, but also concepts and spheres of qualities inherent in all of Bnei Yisrael. Each of the ushpizin represents one of these qualities – chesed, bashfulness, compassion, Torah, Priesthood, righteousness, and teshuva. Every day of Succot, one of these characteristics becomes more accessible for us to focus on, writes Mipi Sefarim Vesofrim. Rabbi Leibel Eiger notes that particularly if someone bears the same name as the ushpizin of that day, he has a special opportunity to focus and train himself in that trait.

So let us make our special guests feel welcome. Make each one the center of the conversation of the night dedicated to him, suggests Halekach Vehalebuv. The point of Sukkot is to give hope to people, for just as the anenei hakavod, the Clouds of Glory, surrounded us in the desert, so does Hashem’s presence surround us throughout our lives, and He sends down some great mentors and role models to help us on our journey.

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