Sunday, September 23, 2012
What a busy season this is! We’re still in the middle of the Days of Awe—and I am already thinking about Sukkot, our fall harvest festival. Torah calls this z’man simchataynu—the season of our joy, and it is my favorite Jewish holiday. After the very somber and indoor-oriented Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I always relieved to arrive at Sukkot, which we celebrate outdoors under the open sky. It brings a long-awaited outpouring of release and gratitude.
The two mitzvot associated with Sukkot are dwelling in the sukkah and taking the lulav. I love both of these practices; in addition to eating my meals in my sukkah, I try to sleep in it at least once. As I shake the lulav in all directions, while surrounded by my beautiful sukkah, I feel an intimate spiritual connection with the natural world, which is, for me, a powerful path to the Divine.
There is also another, lesser-known practice from the Zohar (the central text of the Kabbalah) that I’d like to recommend, which is known as ushpizin. Rabbi Jill Hammer describes this observance on her Tel Shemesh website (http://www.telshemesh.org/) as follows:
On each night of Sukkot, we invite sacred ancestors to enter our sukkah. On the first night, the night of chesed or love, we invite Abraham and Sarah. On the second night, the night of gevurah or strength, we invite Isaac and Rebekah. On the third night, the night of tiferet or beauty, we invite Jacob and Leah. On the fourth night, the night of netzach or eternity, we invite Moses and Tziporah. On the fifth night, the night of hod or glory, we invite Aaron and Miriam. On the sixth night, the night of yesod or foundation, we invite Joseph and Tamar. And on the seventh night, the night of malkhut or dignity, we invite David and Rachel. Each of these ancestors represents a Divine face revealed through a human life. By welcoming them, we welcome the best in ourselves.
The traditional Ushpizin prayer states: “I invite to my meal the exalted guests Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Leah (etc., list all sacred guests you are planning to invite during Sukkot). May it please you_____ (insert names of sacred guests you are inviting on that particular evening), my exalted guests, that all the other exalted guests dwell with me and with you.” The prayer suggests that when we invite our ancestors into our lives, they bring more presences and beings and spirit-creatures with them. When we link to one soul, we link to all souls. The unity of the web of souls is part of the teaching of Sukkot.
I encourage you to try this practice. Even if you don’t have a sukkah this year (there’s still time!) you can go outdoors just before meal-time and invite these sacred guests. Many of us like to add our own creativity to this tradition, inviting some additional guests that embody the spirit of the day, such as other role models from history, or deceased friends and loved ones who have been our teachers. The possibilities are endless.
When Yom Kippur is over, we have asked forgiveness and fasted and made amends, and, we pray, been written and sealed in the Book of Life. Now it is time to rejoice beneath the full moon, to celebrate the bounty of the harvest, together.