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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays The essence of Sukkot

Heroes & Honored Guests

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One of the more interesting & unusual customs of the Mitzva-laden Chag of Sukkot is the Ushpizin. Each night, we symbolically invite into our Sukka a different Biblical hero: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yakov, Moshe, Ahron, Yosef or David.

Now, it’s a wonderful thing to have guests over. But why do we do this special ritual only on Sukkot?!

I’ll get back to that, but first, let's ponder another question: The Rabbis tell us that we should live in our Sukka in the same manner that we live in our homes. And so, if the weather is inclement, we are not required to eat or sleep in the Sukka. However, on the first night of Sukkot – no matter how rainy or cold it may be – we MUST say Kiddush & eat at least a k’zayit of food in our Sukka! But why? Why is the first night an exception to the rule about exemption due to inclement weather?

The Rabbis answer: There is a direct correlation between the holidays of Pesach & Sukkot, because both holidays begin on the 15th of the month (full moon). And so, just as eating Matza is optional during most of Pesach, yet obligatory on the first night, so, too, eating in the Sukka is required on the first night. In fact, there are even halachic authorities who say that we must finish our Sukkot meal by midnight, just as we must eat the Afikoman by midnight!

However, if we are already pursuing the Pesach-Sukkot connection, there is an additional Biblical Mitzva on Pesach, besides eating Matza; it is Magid, to tell the Pesach story. So what do we do on Sukkot that "matches up" with Magid? The Ushpizin! Just as Magid tells the story of the Exodus, so Ushpizin relates the most exciting segment of our early history, from our beginnings as a People with Avraham, to our conquest of the Land & preparing to build the Bet HaMikdash under King David. If we take the time to talk to our family about these great personalities, we will enhance our Chag & bring Judaism to life.

In fact, Sukkot is a wonderful opportunity to tell our children about their grandparents & great-grandparents: What was Sukkot like, back in our younger years? What kind of Sukkot did we build then? How did we choose our set of Arba Minim? What foods graced our holiday tables? Those memories are so important to share with our family.

Now that the hectic days of the Yamim Noraim, RH and YK, have B"H been celebrated, we can relax in the comfort of our little Sukka & leisurely relate some of the highlights of our own personal histories.

Try it; you just might discover some awesome heroes very, very close to home.

Chag Sukkot Sameach!
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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