“Hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming Gd's presence” -Talmud, Shabbat 127a
Having guests is an integral part of Judaism, and it is especially emphasized on Jewish Festivals. Maimonidies writes in his Laws of Festivals that, “When one eats and drinks, one must also feed the stranger, the orphan, the widow and other unfortunate paupers.” (Mishneh Torah, Laws on the Festivals 6:18). What better time to practice hospitality than Sukkot, the Festival of Jewish Unity?! Besides for the physical guests we bring into our Sukkah, we invite spiritual guests too, popularly called the Ushpizin (from Aramaic). These guests are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David - great leaders of the Jewish People.
A Lesson in Hospitality
Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, a central part of tour Rashi Escape Room, had quite an interesting encounter with one of the Ushpizin on the first night of Sukkot.
Rabbi Pinchas was a holy man and a great scholar, but at first most people didn't know this. He spent his days praying and studying Torah uninterrupted, and this suited him quite well. At one point however, word spread of his lofty character. This brought many people, as if by magnet, to his home - asking him for his prayers, blessings, and guidance. As he helped each person, his fame spread even farther, until almost every waking moment of his was spent helping others. He had no time to pray and study properly, and felt that he was no longer serving G-d as he should. Yet how could he turn away all those people that thought he could help them?
Instead, he prayed to G-d that all his fellow Jews should despise him, and would therefore stop visiting him. And G-d answered! Not only did people stop visiting him, they could barely stand his presence. Rabbi Pinchas couldn’t be happier, he finally had time to meditate, pray, and study Torah to his heart's content.
Then came the time to build a sukkah in preparation for the Festival of Sukkot...
In previous years, Rabbi Pinchas always had local community members and yeshivah students volunteering to help him, but this year no one showed up. Not being able to build it himself, he hired a non-Jew do to help him, but he ran into a difficulty as the hired man did not have the correct tools to build a Sukkah, and nobody in town was willing to lend Rabbi Pinchas their tools. In the end, his wife had to be the one to borrow tools and even that was hard to pull off, but they managed to get the Sukkah up...
That night in shul, after the services, Rabbi Pinchas looked around for a guest to invite in honor of the festival. Yet try as he might, not a single person would come with him. He went home somewhat dejected, understanding that his freedom came with a price. Before entering his Sukkah, Rabbi Pinchas recited the traditional invitation to the Ushpizin. Due to his holiness, Rabbi Pinchas was actually able to see these Supernal guests, and this time he saw the Patriarch Abraham, the main guest for the first night, standing some distance outside the entrance of the sukkah. He asked Abraham in distress why he wouldn't he enter the Sukkah?
Abraham answered him that he is the embodiment of the attribute of Chessed - Kindness and hospitality. Therefore, he could not join a table that had no guests.
Rabbi Pinchas took this to heart and re-ordered his priorities.
He prayed to God that his fellow Jews should favor him once again, just as before, and so it happened. His time quickly filled with lines of people beseeching him for help, and thanks to the Patriarch Abraham, this was no longer a concern.
Best Parts of our Character
Although most of us probably cannot see them, the Ushpizin visit our Sukkahs too. All of the Ushpizin visit each night and day of Sukkot, but there is a specific dominant one for each of the seven nights and days. Kabbalah teaches us that these seven supernal guests correspond to the seven Sefirot, Divine attributes, which are also reflected in the seven components of a person's character. Each supernal guest, on his particular night and day, empowers us with the particular attribute that he epitomizes. Rather than us feeding our guests, these guests nourish and feed our souls.
● Our patriarch Abraham is dominant on the first day of Sukkot. He embodies the attribute of Chessed - Loving kindness.
● Our Patriarch Isaac embodies the attribute of Gevurah - Restraint and Discipline.
● Our Patriarch Jacob is dominant on the third day of Sukkot. He is the reflection of the attribute of Tiferet - Beauty, Harmony, and Truth.
● Moses our Teacher is dominant on the fourth day of Sukkot, and symbolizes Netzach - Victory and Endurance.
● Aaron the Priest visits on the fifth day of Sukkot, and imbues us with Hod - Splendor and Humility
● Joseph HaTzaddik spends the sixth day of Sukkot in our Sukkah , and inspires and nourishes our Yesod - Foundation and Connection.
● King David is dominant on the seventh day of Sukkot, and as the King of Israel, embodies the attribute of Malchut - Sovereignty, Receptiveness, and Leadership. (Derech Hashem 3:2:5, Zohar Chadash, Toldot 26c, cf. Zohar 2:256a)
When we act in ways that manifest one of these spiritual attributes, the Divine light shines down into the world bringing it closer to perfection. (Derech Hashem 4:2:2,5) With the help we get from our Ushpizin on Sukkot, each day turns into an incredible opportunity to work on the attributes of our character and bring down the Divine Light into the world! Still think those Sukkah guests are a simple matter? Please comment!
Gut Moed from all of us at OneBefore! Moadim lsimcha!