Latest update: September 26th, 2012
Sukkos comes to us as a beautifully wrapped gift from Hashem, right when we can use some pampering. Having just completed an exhaustive round of appeals to our Father in heaven to forgive our iniquities and grant us yet another chance to prove ourselves worthy of His beneficence and mercy, we emerge as newborns – clean and pure and free of the stain of sin.
An infant upon birth is immediately swaddled in blankets to protect it from the sudden change in temperature of its new confines. At the conclusion of Yom Kippur we are forgiven our transgressions and likened to a newborn; hence Hashem protects us with the sukkah, shielding our newly acquired holiness from becoming sullied by the vulgarities that surround us.
How apropos to celebrate a new beginning by inviting our elite leaders, our role models from time immemorial, to join us in the Sukkah. Enter the Ushpizin (Aramaic for guests) – the seven holy shepherds who blazed the trails for us to walk in, whose merits we invoke for our benefit at every turn in life.
The luminaries that comprise the Ushpizin are Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef and Dovid, each representing one of Hashem’s divine attributes and each possessing a spiritual essence uniquely his own, along with the combined middos – the character traits – of them all.
Avraham Avinu represents the divine attribute of chesed (kindness) and is the epitome of the perfect host. He has served as our model for the mitzvah of hachnassas orchim ever since he invited the angels to “sit under the tree.”
According to a fascinating midrash, it is as a result of this gesture that Avraham’s children were rewarded with the mitzvah of sukkah. Shedding light on the correlation, the Zohar teaches that Avraham Avinu’s intent when inviting the malachim to rest beneath the tree was to teach his guests (the angels disguised as mortals) that one is to place Hashem before him always. The seven days during which we are commanded to sit in the sukkah correspond to the human lifespan of seventy years – during which time our every act and deed, physical or spiritual in nature, is to be done l’shem shamayim, for the sake of heaven. (Alshich HaKadosh)
Yitzchak Avinu represents the divine attribute of gevurah (strength). Who can possibly begin to fathom the remarkable strength of a young man who had allowed himself to be bound by his father, in readiness to be offered as sacrificial lamb to God per divine instruction? Their complete submission to the will of Hashem attests to both father’s and son’s unerring faith in their Creator. Their actions have spoken for all eternity and have achieved atonement for our weaknesses and failings time and time again.
Yaakov Avinu is aptly accredited with the divine attribute of tiferes (beauty). By integrating the qualities of his father (gevurah) and his grandfather (chesed), Yaakov managed to achieve the perfect blend of character traits to qualify him as progenitor of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Following Yaakov’s defeat of Eisav’s ministering angel, Hashem named him Yisrael – which contains the words yashar (straight, upright) and Kel (one of God’s names), thus validating Yaakov’s uprightness in his service of Hashem.
Moshe Rabbeinu, whose legacy lives on in teachers of Torah throughout the generations, personifies the divine attribute of netzach (eternity). The mere mention of Moshe Rabbeinu invokes the trait of humility. Yet if he was truly “more humble than any man on earth,” how is it that he did not have an issue with being summoned to ascend to the top of Mount Sinai to accept the Torah as an intermediary between God and the Jewish nation? Shouldn’t he have protested “Who am I to go…?” as he did when Hashem told him to approach Pharaoh?
Moshe knew Hashem had chosen the smallest mount for Mattan Torah and rationalized that it was fitting for him, as the smallest Jew, to be mekabel the Torah on the smallest mount. (Kedushas Levi)
Aharon HaKohen, bestowed with the majesty of the kehunah by the Almighty Himself, represents the divine attribute of hod (glory). The role of kohen gadol was most suitable for Aharon, whose love for his fellow man was legendary. He was close to the people and genuinely took their troubles to heart. As one who took upon himself the tza’ar of Klal Yisrael and constantly prayed that their burdens be lightened, he was the perfect candidate to wear on his heart the choshen – the breastplate that depicted the twelve tribes of Israel via precious gemstones set upon the woven square. (Be’er Mayim Chaim)
Yosef embodies the divine attribute of yesod (foundation). Man is known to be at his most vulnerable when he is well off and enjoys much success, or conversely when he is beset by troubles and poverty. Yosef HaTzaddik had God so deeply embedded in his heart that he could not possibly entertain the thought of transgressing – neither as a lowly slave for a Mitzri nor when he was enjoying fame and fortune as the most successful man in the land.
And he dressed the part. Aside from his handsomeness, his exterior reflected a man with the times – one of the reasons cited for his appeal to women; Potiphar’s wife, for example, sought to seduce the young Yosef at whatever the cost.
Yaakov Avinu, on the other hand, never had an interest in appearing “stylish.” While Yosef’s preening was his way of keeping his inner righteousness under wraps, it nonetheless invited attention he could have done without. It was precisely at such a critical moment that he envisioned his father standing before him and came to realize the virtue of his father’s “old-fashioned” ways. (Divrei Meir)
Dovid HaMelech exemplifies the divine attribute of malchus (sovereignty). The world says that actions speak louder than words – a truism exemplified by the aforementioned personalities. Dovid HaMelech did one better: he managed in magnificent fashion to capture in words the essence of every act and aspect of life, along with every human emotion known to man. Small wonder that our prayers, recited on weekdays, Shabbos and special holidays, are replete with the verses of Psalms penned by the king of Israel.
A sovereign, a true leader, is in tune with his subjects, while at the same time being cognizant that it is the King of kings Who runs the world.
Dovid HaMelech sums it up neatly pretty much at the start, as in his third Psalm: “To God is the salvation and upon Your people is Your blessing…” It is Hashem’s responsibility to save His servants and His people, and it is His people’s obligation to bless Him for His salvation. (Rashi)
And so we see how the mannerisms of our seven holy shepherds during their lifetimes were influenced by one critical attribute: emunah, perfect faith. No small credit is due Avraham Avinu, who started it all. The ground he broke in recognition of our One and Only God was unprecedented and set the stage for the belief system of future generations.
* * * * *
The chassidim were taken aback by the sight of the Jewish man who had come to the home of Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk. Their interest was piqued by his attire – short coat, starched shirt collar and “modish” hat – which was so unlike their own.
The visitor accompanied the chassidim to the beis medrash where the Rebbe soon arrived for Minchah. As he strode to the podium, the Rebbe’s sharp eyes settled on the newcomer whom he greeted warmly and invited to sit with him up front.
Afterward, the outsider accompanied the Rebbe back home where the two retreated to the Rebbe’s private chamber and engaged in a prolonged tête-à-tête. This further aroused the curiosity of Reb Elimelech’s chassidim as well as of his own children, who did not know what to make of this strange association.
Once the guest had taken his leave, with an effusively warm send-off from his host, the Rebbe’s eldest son Reb Elazar questioned his father about his unusual visitor. Reb Elimelech’s response was brief: When the time will come, you too will know.
Speculation and conjecture eventually simmered down and the incident was all but forgotten. Some years later with the advent of Sukkos the community found itself facing a shortage of esrogim and dispatched emissaries far and wide to procure the sought-after fruit. Reb Elazar himself traveled to the large city of Hamburg in Germany where esrogim were said to be in abundant supply.
The journey to Hamburg was an arduous one, and to the tzaddik’s consternation he found he would not make it home in time for the start of Sukkos. Stranded in unfamiliar territory, Reb Elazar was in need of not only a roof over his head for Yom Tov, but one with a kosher sukkah.
When Reb Elazar approached the gabbai of one of Hamburg’s synagogues, he soon discovered that the shuls in the area had an orderly system in place that paired guests with hosts for suitable accommodations. In no time flat, his assigned host introduced himself and assured his guest it would be an honor to receive him in his home.
The host turned out to be one of the most affluent of Hamburg’s citizens. Reb Elazar had never been exposed to such opulence and was astonished at the sheer magnitude of the premises, let alone the luxurious furnishings. Moreover comforting to Reb Elazar was the family’s obvious observance of tznius.
After everyone in the large and lavishly decorated sukkah was seated, a servant appeared carrying a magnificent stool that he set down alongside the master of the house. The latter rose promptly to his feet and declared in an emotionally charged tone: “Baruch haba, der Zeida Rebbi Avraham!” and began to recite the verses of Ushpizin traditionally said before Kiddush to welcome the soul of the Ushpiz, the “holy guest,” corresponding to the specific day of Sukkos.
Reb Elazar, who was unfamiliar with this ritual (the ornamental chair and loud proclamation of the arrival of the day’s revered “guest”), took the liberty of inquiring about the custom once he had warmed up to his host. The baal ha’bayis expressed surprise at his guest’s unawareness and said simply that “proffering proper honor on one of our seven shepherds as he enters our sukkah is the seemly thing to do.”
“You actually see the Ushpizin?” asked a wide-eyed Reb Elazar, to which his host countered with, “And you do not?”
It became apparent to Reb Elazar that the baal ha’bayis possessed great merit in having the Ushpizin grace him with their presence and that he was furthermore empowered to see his distinguished guests and to welcome them with great reverence.
Reb Elazar admitted to his host that he did not perceive them and asked if an arrangement could be made so that he might have the exalted privilege. The host replied that he would take the matter up with the Ushpizin at the next seudah – at which time he informed his guest that since he hadn’t merited the distinction at the onset, his desire would regrettably remain unfulfilled.
The baal ha’bayis refrained from pursuing the subject any further, but Reb Elazar was reasonably content to find himself in the presence of the Ushpizin, irrespective of his inability to observe them.
Upon arriving back home, Reb Elazar was excited to share his amazing experience in Hamburg with his father, but the tzaddik of Lizhensk headed him off. “You should know that the wealthy baal ha’bayis with whom you were privileged to spend Sukkos is none other than the German Jew who was my guest a while back, whom I had referred to as the one you would become acquainted with in due time. He is one of the hidden tzaddikim of this generation.
“How fortunate for you, my son, that you were worthy of sitting in his sukkah, along with the holy Ushpizin.”
* * * * *
Our invitation to the Ushpizin to visit our sukkah ends with the verse from Parshas Ha’azinu in Devarim: “Ki chelek Hashem amo, Yaakov chevel nachalaso” – “For Hashem’s portion is His people, Yaakov is the lot of His inheritance.”
Take the simpleton whose love for the king made him yearn to have the sovereign over to his home for dinner. Despite being mindful that his low station in life would make it impossible for him to honor the king befittingly, the poor man refused to give up on his grand aspiration.
When the king was made aware of the man’s hankering, he ordered that a sumptuous feast be prepared in the royal kitchen, to be delivered to the home of the pauper so that his longing to entertain the king in style could be satisfied.
As we invite the seven holy shepherds to our sukkah, we are all too well aware that our spiritual deficiency renders us unworthy of properly honoring them. We nevertheless are fortified in knowing that we are “of Hashem’s portion” – that our souls emanate from the King’s palatial “kitchen.” Our mitzvos and good deeds derived from that same source qualify us to extend an invitation to our holy fathers to join us in our simcha of mitzvah Sukkah. (Tiferes Banim)
Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.
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