“And you shall be joyous in your holiday, you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, the Levite, the convert, the orphan and the widow who are in your midst…” (Deuteronomy 17, 14)
Upon entering the sukkah, we invite the ushpizin:
I will invite to my meal the exalted guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David.
We then turn to the designated guest of that day and issue him a special invitation.
Foundations for Planning
- How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
- How is the idea that the entire nation is connected expressed on the holiday of Sukkot?
- How can historical Jewish figures serve as role models for us?
- In what way does Jewish tradition teach us about the value of welcoming guests?
- What is the connection between the holiday of Sukkot and welcoming guests?
The festival of Sukkot is also the harvest festival, in which we gather the crops of the fields and celebrate the abundance with which we have been blessed. It is therefore an especially suitable time to share our happiness with guests. In the Book...
The festival of Sukkot is also the harvest festival, in which we gather the crops of the fields and celebrate the abundance with which we have been blessed. It is therefore an especially suitable time to share our happiness with guests.
In the Book of Deuteronomy (27, 14), the Torah specifically commands about happiness on Sukkot, and about sharing our happiness with family members, slaves, Levites who had no land of their own, converts, orphans and widows. We learn from this that happiness on the holiday of Sukkot is directly connected to welcoming guests into our sukkah, especially those who might find it difficult to be happy because of their general circumstances or due to loneliness.
The Rambam says the following about the commandment to be happy on holidays in general, and the three pilgrimage holidays (shloshet haregalim) specifically (Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Yom Tov, 6, 18): “When one eats and drinks [on Yom Tov], he must also feed the convert, orphan and widow, together with all those who are impoverished. He who shuts his doors and gives food and drink only to his wife and children and not to the poor does not fulfil the commandment of happiness, but rather the happiness of his own stomach.”
The Rambam claims that there is a difference between physical happiness – “the happiness of one’s own stomach” – and the commandment of happiness, which is a spiritual joy that results from fulfilling the commandment of welcoming guests and giving tzedaka (charity) to the impoverished.
The custom of welcoming guests into our sukkah also connects to the kabbalistic tradition of inviting one of our forefathers as a “guest” each night of Sukkot: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. These guests are called ushpizin, or “guests” in Aramaic. By inviting them, we also invite the symbolic traits associated with each of them (for example, Abraham’s kindness) to dwell in our sukkah and influence us. These days, there are those who, in addition to inviting the traditional ushpizin, also invite the foremothers of the nation, female leaders and women who stand out in Jewish tradition, including: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda, Ruth and Esther.
In addition, the holiday of Sukkot is also connected to inviting guests because it is one of the “shloshet haregalim”, the three holidays in which people made the pilgrimage to the Holy Temple. In the days of the Holy Temple, hundreds of thousands of people from around and outside of Israel would “go up” to Jerusalem on the holiday of Sukkot, in order to celebrate the holiday in the Holy Temple.
There were many guests in the city, often more guests than residents, and it was necessary to find places for them all to sleep. To accommodate the pilgrims, sukkot (temporary huts) were built on roofs, balconies and walkways, and the residents of Jerusalem would open their personal sukkot to guests, without asking for payment.
To ensure that all guests had where to sleep, there were even special sukkot built at night in the streets and folded during the day so as not to block the way (as told in the Jerusalem Talmud, Mashechet Sukkah, chapter 2, halacha 2).
Divide the students into pairs and have them write a list of rules for being a good host. Ask them to discuss how they would want to be treated as a guest: What is a nice way to be treated? What kinds of things do you enjoy doing as a guest? What kinds of things bother you?
Each pair should write three important rules for hosts and three important rules for guests. Ask the students to read the rules that they wrote out loud, and to share stories related to those rules that they themselves have experienced as guests or hosts.
Afterwards, discuss the difficulties that a host might sometimes face, such as exerting too much effort or when boundaries are crossed, as well as the difficulties that guests face.
Then, ask them to discuss the advantages of hosting.
Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.
- Why do you think the Torah mentions additional people when commanding us to be happy on this holiday? What does this teach us about happiness?
- How can those in need be part of our happiness on the holiday?
- What is the connection between Sukkot and inviting guests into our home? Why do we invite guests specifically on this holiday?
- What do you like best about having guests? What do you do with guests? Are there things that you don’t like about having guests? What do you do in situations when hosting is not pleasant for you?
- What does a guest bring to the place where they are hosted? How do they affect the atmosphere and experience, even after they leave? What does the guest give the host by virtue of their presence?
- What do you think is the intention behind hosting ushpizin, people who do not physically come to the sukkah? How do we “host” them? Why, in your opinion, do we do this?
- What inspiring people would you want to host? How would you host them? How would the experience of hosting those people be different than if you met them in a neutral place, like a coffee shop?
- Have the students choose one person from Jewish tradition whom they find to be inspiring and write a questionnaire with questions that they would ask them, if they could meet and host them. They can use the internet to research the person they have chosen.
- Ask the students to choose seven figures from Jewish tradition whom they would want to host in their sukkah. Together as a group, you can think about possible guests. Encourage the students to “host” a variety of different kinds of guests – men and women, people from different historical periods, etc. After choosing, they can draw a “clock” where, instead of numbers, they will paste drawings or pictures of their chosen “guests”. They can put one “hour hand” that they will move every day during the holiday to the “guest” they are hosting on that particular day, and tell their family about that person. This activity can be used as a starting point to discuss the development of traditions and customs, and for adding female figures to the traditional ushpizin.
- Teach the saying of the Sages: “May your home be opened wide” (Masechet Avot, chapter 1, mishnah 5). The students can write this on a sign with which they will decorate their sukkah. You can also teach the students the traditional text that is often hung in the sukkah: “You shall be blessed as you enter”- ברוך אתה בבואך and “you shall be blessed as you leave”-“, “ברוך אתה בצאתך” Students who prefer can write these sentences on their sign.
- Expand the discussion to learn about how pilgrims to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem were welcomed as guests during Sukkot, and teach the portion in Masechet Avot de Rabbi Natan on this topic:
A person has never said to his friend: I couldn’t find a bed on which to sleep in Jerusalem. A person has never said to his friend: I regret the place in which I will sleep in Jerusalem. (Masechet Avot de Rabbi Natan, text 1, chapter 35)
Ask the students: Why is inviting guests into our homes such an important Jewish value? How does it connect to other Jewish values?
- Teach the words of the Rambam discussing the connection between happiness and helping others and welcoming guests:
When a person eat or drinks, he must also feed the convert, orphan and widow, along with other impoverished and unfortunate people; he who locks the gate of his courtyard and gives food and drink only his own family, and not to those who are impoverished or unfortunate, does not have joy from the commandment, but rather only joy in filling his own stomach. (Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Yom Tov, chapter 6, laws 17-18)
Discuss the difference between “joy of the commandment” and “joy of filling one’s stomach”.
- This video on the Reform movement’s Holiday website is a musical rendition inviting the ushpizin and ushpizot.