The Tradition of Succah Guests – USHPIZIN and USHPIZOT (Hebrew) – USHPIZAN (Aramaic)
by Suri Edell Greenberg
Many Judaic ceremonial traditions originated in medieval times through the teachings of rabbis steeped in Kabbalah. The origin of one such ceremony, ‘Ushpizin’ (Aramaic for Guests), can be found in the verse of the Zohar, Emor 103b: “When a person is seated in his succah, Abraham and six distinguished visitors partake of his company.”
A mystical recitation based on Zohar, Emor 103b-104a, is repeated each night of Succot to invite the following seven Biblical guests or Ushpizin to rejoice with us in our Succah:
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, David
Each of these guests is identified by a special characteristic which represents one of the spiritual attributes of God: Chesed (lovingkindness), Gevurah (strength), Tiferet (splendor), Netzach (Eternity), Hod (glory), Yesod (foundation), Malchut (kingship)
These seven attributes also refer to much deeper, mystical concepts called sefirot, which can be described as manifestations of the ways in which God interacts with His creation. The names and order of the sephirot were based on King David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:11. This verse is included in our prayer books, to be repeated in song whenever the Torah is removed from the ark for reading.
The rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud, in Megillah 14a-b, list seven Biblical women who were prophetesses:
Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda, Esther
According to ancient kabbalistic tradition, each of these women is also associated with one of the seven spiritual attributes of God.
Rabbenu Bahye, in his Commentary on the Torah, completed in 1291, (Be’ur al ha-Torah, Exodus 15:20), mentioned the concept of parallelism between the seven prophetesses and the Kabbalah’s sephirot of holiness.
Rabbi Nathan Nata ben Solomon Spira (Shapira), in his work Sefer Megalleh Amukot, Ofan 85, wrote in 17th century Cracow, Poland regarding Deborah:
“…she was one of seven prophetesses, sustainers of Israel, who corresponded to the seven levels of holiness; and Deborah was at the same level as Moshe, which is the holy aspect of Tiferet.”
The names and designated spiritual attributes of both the male and female leaders of Israel varied according to era and community. In the 17th century, talmudist and kabbalist Rabbi Menahem Azariah of Fano, Italy, in his work Asarah Ma’amarot, Ma’amar Kol Hai, summarized the names of the prophetesses and their levels of holiness, making special note of the fact that the list of prophetesses in Megillah 14a-b matches the exact order of the kabbalistic sephirot.
Today, many families and communities seek ways to enhance our religious rituals by welcoming active participation of women in our ceremonies. There appears to be justification for inviting, as Ushpizin and Ushpizan, all the Biblical men and women whose righteous status would fill our succot with spiritual energy and holiness.
- The Ushpizin ceremony can be found in the Prayer Book.
- Pictures of the exalted male Guests can be found on wall charts wherever Succah decorations are sold.
- Pictures of the exalted female Guests and their symbols can be printed HERE.
You are invited to print the chart and hang it in your succah.
Note: Before using any files, check for viruses and other malware that may have been added by others, after this project was posted online. I assume no responsibility for damage.
- Babylonian Talmud
- Encyclopaedia Judaica
- Soncino Books of the Bible
- Yael Levine – ‘Sheva Nevi’ot ve-Sheva Sefirot – Iyyunim be-Parshanut Kabbalit’, Da’at 44 (Winter 5760), pp.123-130
- Various internet websites