Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Sukkot
To dedicate this lesson

The Ushpizin in Kabbalah

The other-world Ushpizin guests are: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, David and Yosef HaTzaddik. Yosef is not mentioned specifically in the Zohar - as opposed to Miriam, the sister of Moshe and Aharon - and so we should ask: Why was Yosef, of all our many righteous forebears, chosen as one of the guests? (We will also relate below to why Miriam is not included in our Ushpizin.)


Rabbi Eyal Ein Dor

Tishrei 18 5782
Translated and adapted by Hillel Fendel

It is a widespread custom in Jewish homes that just before we begin our evening meal in the Sukkah, we invite the holy Ushpizin (guests), beginning with our Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This custom is first mentioned in the Zohar, which states that one must invite to his home the "upper-world guests" – and after them he must invite "mortal" guests, those who are needy. Inviting the poor and hungry into our home, especially on festivals, is a Torah command, as the Rambam writes: "One must feed the foreigner, the orphan and the widow, together with other poor people – and one who closes off his yard and eats and drinks only with his children and wife without giving food and drink to the poor and bitter-hearted, is not engaging in the Torah-commanded holiday joy, but is rather gladdening only his own belly."

Before we elaborate on the holy Ushpizin, let us discuss the above command. The Rambam tells us, using some admittedly sharp language, that those with means must concern themselves with those who lack the same opportunities. He says that this is so particularly on the holidays, when Jews are commanded not only to rejoice, but also to gladden others, those who cannot be happy on their own. Specifically, we learn here that the primary aspect of happiness, and of the command to rejoice on the festivals, is the idea of "community." That is, the goal is not that each individual should celebrate on his own with what he has. Rather, we must all look about and see what those around us – especially those close to us – might be missing. When we see that someone else lacks the means to feed and dress himself and his family as is suitable for the holiday, the Torah commands each of us, "based on the gifts with which G-d has blessed us" (see Deut. 16,17), to help him out.

G-d, "father of orphans and widows," knows that He has taken the orphans' fathers and widows' husbands, and commands us as follows: "I have distributed My abundance in an unequal manner! Recognize this – and do what you can to equalize things! Take heed of those who don't have, and share with them – 'because for this thing G-d will bless you in all your endeavors' (Deut. 15,10)." And when G-d sees that a person recognizes that he is the beneficiary of the unfair distribution and has received more than his share, and then actually gives from what he fairly earned to his friend who did not merit to earn the same – G-d understands that this person does not attribute his success only to his own efforts, but rather to Divine sources, and to the fact that G-d gave him the wherewithal to succeed (see Deut. 8,18). The person is thus seen to be a loyal servant of G-d, Who will then continue to bless him with abundance, knowing that he will use it generously and compassionately.

The essence of the Sukkot holiday is the general national joy in which everyone is a partner, and it is in this that the holiday is sanctified by Israel. Whoever does not gladden others is not truly rejoicing as commanded, but is rather gladdening only his belly, thinking only about the material aspects of the holiday joy, and ignoring the spiritual essence of the Torah imperative to rejoice on the festivals.

Who are the Ushpizin?

We now return to the other-world Ushpizin guests, namely: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, David and Yosef HaTzaddik. Yosef is not mentioned specifically in the Zohar - as opposed to Miriam, the sister of Moshe and Aharon - and so we should ask: Why was Yosef, of all our many righteous forebears, chosen as one of the guests? (We will also relate below to why Miriam is not included in our Ushpizin.) According to the Arizal, it is clear why Yosef was included, for he corresponds to one of the sephirot mentioned in the Zohar, specifically the sephira of Yesod (Foundation).

But let us delve further into the matter. The Zohar mentions three Divine gifts granted to Israel in the merit of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam. The manna was given to Israel in the merit of Moshe; the Clouds of Glory in Aharon's merit, and the well for water was given in Miriam's merit. When Miriam passed away, the well was also taken, leaving Israel with no water – but in the merit of Moshe and Aharon, the well was restored. After a while, Aharon also died, and the Clouds of Glory left as well, leaving Israel unprotected from the heat and enemy projectiles. The Canaanites in fact took advantage at this point and attacked Israel, after which time G-d restored the Clouds of Glory in the merit of Moshe Rabbeinu.  And when Moshe died, all three gifts were removed.

The Zohar cited the above succession of events as background for the choice of the Ushpizin. What exactly about this story qualifies Moshe and Aharon to be our Sukkah guests? The answer is based on the well-known Medrashic opinion that the Sukkot with which G-d protected Israel in the desert were actually the Clouds of Glory – which were given to us first in the merit of Aharon, and then in the merit of Moshe! It is thus perfectly clear why Moshe and Aharon are an integral part of the Ushpizin, for the essence of the holiday is a remembrance of these very Clouds of Glory!

We now ask why Miriam, though mentioned in the Zohar in this context, is not one of our Sukkot Ushpizin guests? To simply say that females are not invited so as not to breach the guidelines of modesty is not sufficient – for Miriam is destined to be among the participants at the End-of-Days festive meal for the righteous, and will even sing there as she did following the Exodus. Why, then, is she not among the Ushpizin? Three possible answers present themselves:

1.     As mentioned, the Sukkot Clouds of Glory were not granted Israel in Miriam's merit.

2.     Women are not obligated to sit in the Sukkah, for this is a time-dependent positive mitzvah. Why, then, should she come to visit men in the Sukkah, or anyone who is obligated to fulfill this mitzvah? And certainly she would not be expected to come to visit women, who are not obligated to be there at all!

3.     Unlike the End-of-Days meal for the righteous, after the Evil Inclination has already been done away with – here there is in fact a problem of modesty for women and men to sit together.

In any event, we have seen that Miriam was replaced by Yosef in the list of Ushpizin – and the question is: Why Yosef (aside from what we explained above according to the Arizal)? After all, he was not even mentioned in the Zohar in this context!

Another simple answer could be that elsewhere in the Zohar we find that Yosef is mentioned together with the other tzaddikim, and so we infer that he should be included in this list of tzaddikim as well.

But again, let us delve more deeply and find an intrinsic connection between Sukkot and Yosef. The Talmud tells us in several places that before the arrival of Mashiah ben David, the Mashiah ben Yosef will come and "pave the way" in advance. That is, the latter will make many of the material preparations, to be followed by restoration of the Kingdom of the House of David and the raising up of the "fallen Sukkah of David." As such, Yosef has a direct connection with Sukkot, in preparing the way for the final Redemption and the rebuilding of the fallen Davidic sukkah.

We can also add that although Yaakov's firstborn son was Reuven, and it was he who was to receive the birthright and its privileges, in the end these were given to Yosef. This means that Yosef was the direct continuation of the Patriarchs. The Sfat Emet similarly explains that Yosef is a continuation of his forefathers in that he was not one of the Twelve Tribes; it was his two sons Ephraim and Menashe who are counted among the tribes [giving Yosef a double portion]. As such, the first four Ushpizin are "Patriarchs:" Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and Yosef.

There is of course much more to say and learn about the Ushpizin and their arrival in our Sukkot; the Torah is wider and broader than the seas…

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