07 Jun 2006

The Succot custom. On the Holiday of Succot, the Jewish People are commanded to leave their homes and to transfer their living quarters to temporary structures known, not coincidentally, as Succot. A major part of living in the Succah, in addition to sleeping there at night and spending as much time in it as possible, is to have festive Holiday meals in the Succah.

A general rule applying to Jewish celebrations is that they should be shared with the poor. One specific form that may take is “Hachnasat Orechim,” the Welcoming of Guests, and the sharing of the Holiday spirit with them. This certainly applies on the Holiday of Succot as well. One of the highest priorities in planning the Succot meals is to plan to have guests; most particularly, from the community of the poor. On Succot, there is an additional aspect to “Hachnasat Orechim;” that is, the welcoming each night of seven of the greatest leaders of the People of Israel, the “Seven Shepherds,” Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yoseph, Moshe, Aharon and David.

Each night of Succot is dedicated to one of the seven; he is welcomed personally, together with the rest of the list mentioned above. Some have a slightly different version of the list, placing Moshe and Aharon before Yoseph. These seven special honored guests are called the “Ushpizin,” which is the Aramaic word for “guests.”

On the first night of Succot, when everyone comes into the Succah, before “Kiddush” is recited, an invitation is extended to these heroes of Jewish History. Everyone begins, “I invite to my Holiday Feast …” – then Avraham’s name is mentioned, followed by the other six. The second night, Yitzchak’s name is mentioned first, followed each night by the members of the list, in rotation. There are Kabbalistic reasons for associating each of the seven with the specific days of the Festival; suffice it to say that the seven personalities taken together comprise the highest attributes of the Soul of Israel.

There is a universal custom of displaying in the Succah a visual depiction of the invitation to the “Ushpizin.” There is also a Sephardic custom of providing a special chair, covered with a beautiful cloth, with books from the Written and the Oral Torah, and all present in the Succah recite together, “This is the chair for the ‘Ushpizin’ ”