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The Holy Shepherds / Ushpizin

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The Ushpizin The Ushpizin theme is a variation of "mortal visited by angel," which occurs at times in Judeo-Christian traditions; eg. the revelation of Elijah as a mystical vision that pious individuals can merit. However, it is the virtue of charity and feeding the poor that merits the presence of the Ushpizin on Sukkoth.

Ushpizin, an Aramaic term, occurring in the Tosefta (Ma'aser Sheni 1:13) was first used in the Zohar (later thirteenth century) referring to the mysterious guests who attend the holiday celebration in the sukkah. It is similar in its connotation to the Latin word "hospes", which means foreign guests, visitors, or strangers".

The Zohar, the foremost book of Jewish mysticism, explains that the Sukkah generates such an intense concentration of spiritual energy, that the divine presence actually manifests itself there in a similar way to Eden.

What Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur is to our spiritual lives,
Sukkoth is to our physical being.

During Sukkot the souls of the seven shepherds of Israel descend to partake in the divine light of the earthly Sukkot (Zohar - Emor 103a). Rabbi Meir ben Judah Loeb haKohen (d. 1662) who was the last editor of the Lurianic writings and whose works were widely spread in Poland and Germany, identified the seven Uspizin in his book "Or Zaddikim" as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and Rabbi Isaac ben solomon Luria (Ha-Ari) (1534-1572).

According to King Solomon Various traditions, both medieval and modern, invite female guests, or additional ushpizot, to the sukkah as well.

The Jewish mystical texts explain that each of the seven Ushpizin correspond to a fundamental spiritual pathway '(sefirah) through which the world is metaphysically nourished and perfected (Derech Hashem 3:2:5, Zohar Chadash, Toldot 26c; cf. Zohar 2:256a).

The idea of the Ushpizin and the custom of greeting them at the Sukkah entrance are found in the influential book Shenei Luhot Habrit by Rabbi Isaiah ben Abraham Ha-Levi Horowitz (1565-1630). This custom and a welcoming prayer were incorporated into the Sephardic and Hassidic prayer books.

King David writes: "A thousand years in Your eyes are like a day" (Psalms 90:4). Each day of Sukkot corresponds to one of the days of the week, and to each of the seven millennia of human history – starting with Adam and leading to the Messianic era (Talmud - Sanhedrin 97a; Derech Hashem 1:3:9).

According to the tradition of Medieval Italian kabbalist Menachem Azariah of Fano, the ushpizot are:

because these women are distinguished in the Talmud as prophetesses.

Other traditions include biblical figures such as

Likewise, others include a list of historically significant Jewish women such as

In Chabad tradition, an additional set of corresponding "chasidic" ushpizin enter the sukkah, beginning with the

Originating in the kabbalistic tradition of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Tzfat, each of the Ushpizin personifies a specific positive character trait that assists in the manifestation of light in the world.

According to kabbalistic belief, each night of Sukkot all of the Sacred Guests are said to descend from the Garden of Eden/heaven to partake in the nightly meal in our sukkah. There are specific prayers that welcome the Sacred Guests and include, among other requests, that those in need be provided with adequate sustenance. The very meal that would be given to the Ushpizin is allocated to the poor: one may have that person as a guest, donate the food, or contribute the equivalent amount in charity (tzedakah).

The Rambam reminds us this is a matter of religious obligation. One must feed the stranger, widow, orphan, and unfortunate, otherwise one is attending to his own needs only and is forsaking a mitzvah.

Maimonides (1135-1204) proposed that hosting poor people and treating well during any holiday is spiritually essential for proper observance and celebration (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:18) In the Zohar, this ideal ethical conduct obtains mystical dimensions.

Similarly, Maimonides this as a matter of religious obligation: "While eating and drinking himself, one is obligated to feed the stranger, orphan, and widow, along with the other unfortunate poor... [One who does not] is not enjoying a mitzvah, but rather his stomach" (Laws of Yom Tov 6:18).

The Zohar (Emor 103a), continues: "One must also gladden the poor, and the portion [that would otherwise have been set aside for these Ushpizin] guests should go to the poor.

One should not say "I will first satisfy myself with food and drink, and I shall give the leftovers to the poor." Rather, the first of everything must be for one's guests.

It is believed that on each day of Sukkot, one of the seven guests leads the others into every individual sukkah. Thus on each day of Sukkot, a different "Ushpizin" enters a sukkah followed by all the others.

The Seven Shepherds & The Seven Ushpizin

The names of the seven shepherds and the seven ushpizin only partially overlap.
The first three among the shepherds, who represent the ancestors of humanity, are replaced by three who are associated with the national dawn of the Israelites and the Jews.
The seven shepherds are "David in the middle, Adam, Seth, and Methuselah on his right (Ancestors of all Humanity), and Moses on his left" (BT Sukkah 52b)

Venerated Sevenths

According to another tradition, the sevenths is a favorite among the generations. Thus:

  1. Adam,
  2. Seth,
  3. Enosh,
  4. Kenan,
  5. Mahalalel,
  6. Jared,
  7. Enoch
    "And Enoch walked with God [Genesis 5:22].

Among the Patriarchs the seventh was the favorite. Thus:

  1. Abraham,
  2. Isaac and
  3. Jacob,
  4. Levi,
  5. Kohath,
  6. Amram, and
  7. Moses
    "And Moses went up unto God [Exodus 19:3].

Among the children the seventh was the favorite, as it says, David the seventh [1 Chronicles 2:15].


On Sukkot we are told to leave the comfort of our sturdy homes with their strong walls, insulated windows and security systems and we are directed to live in an impermanent shelter—where the walls may shake in the slightest breeze and roof is made of leaves and twigs and not shingles and tar paper.

We invite friends, strangers and even our ancient ancestors to share a meal at our table in this unstable, ephemeral dwelling place. We are made to feel the fragility of being human—the chill, the warmth, the exposure. And to celebrate it. If we are fortunate it is only temporary.

We are invited to remember once we were homeless refugees. For some that may feel like thousands of years ago, but on Sukkot we are asked to heed the immense vulnerability that is still felt by so many in this world and in our own communities. And we are asked to do something about it.

According to the mystical tradition, when we dwell in the sukkah, the poor are not distinguished from the rich and we are to invite all guests into our temporary homes. We are asked to especially seek out and support the needy.

We dream and hope for the day when God will spread a shelter of peace over all the world—and there will be an end to homelessness, poverty and exile. But until that day let us hear the voices and the silences of those in need and do something about it. And always, always remember once we too were strangers, widows and orphans. Once we too needed someone to support us. Maybe we still do.
Repair the World Blog


Uferos aleinu Sukkat shlomecha. And spread over us the shelter (the Sukkah) of Your peace.

The festival’s sukkah is, by design, vulnerable. As Arthur Waskow, a Jewish spiritual writer in Philadelphia, recently put it, the Sukkah must be “roofed with green branches, 'open to starlight, wind and rain. Making it watertight makes it not a kosher (usable) sukkah. Its vulnerability is crucial.Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger

Symbolism of the Sukkah

Life is Fleeting & Impermanent

The sukkah, its bare walls and palm leaf or bamboo roof, teaches us that life is temporary.  There was once a man traveling through Europe in the 1800’s. He came to the town where the Chofetz Chaim had lived. The traveler stopped in to meet the great renown rabbi. When he arrived at the house, he saw that the Chofetz Chaim lived in a tiny home. He knocked on the door and when he looked inside he saw a nearly empty one-bedroom apartment.

The traveler asked the Chofetz Chaim, “aren’t you the great Chofetz Chaim? How can you live like this? Where are all of your possessions?”

The Chofetz Chaim turned to the traveler and posed the same question. “Where are all of your possessions? All you have with you is a suitcase.”

The traveler answered, “Well, I am just passing through,” to which the Chofetz Chaim responded, “I too am just passing through.”

Laws of the Sukkah

1. During all seven days of Sukkot (eight days outside of Israel), one's house should serve as his temporary dwelling and his Sukkah as his permanent dwelling.
One should eat, drink, sleep and live in the Sukkah, day and night, just as he does the rest of the year in his house (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 639:1).
2. There is an obligation to sleep in the Sukkah, even for a nap. The law of sleeping in the Sukkah – for men is even greater than eating in the Sukkah.
So significant is this obligation that Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohen Kook, when he was in Switzerland during a snow storm, would not miss one nights sleep in the Sukkah. (Sefer Rabbenu - on the Life of Ha-Rav Zvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, p. 187).