Being Jewish means enjoying great holidays and most of them have great “stuff.” At the J Early Childhood Center, we have been blowing the shofar with abandon but now we get the best fun — building a sukkah! Children love forts and the sukkah is such a special one to share with family and guests. The important Jewish value of hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests, is practiced on Sukkot in a very special way. The tradition of ushpizin, which began in the 16th century, involves inviting a different Biblical guest each night of Sukkot using special words of welcome and honor.
According to the Midrash, the shelter of the sukkah was available to the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness solely as a result of Abraham’s offer of hospitality to the three strangers who appeared to tell Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child. That is a great explanation, but the real message is that we should always show kindness and proper hospitality to others.
Here are the Biblical ushpizin for each night and a topic for family discussion:
ABRAHAM was told by G-d to take his long-awaited son Isaac, and bind him to a sacrificial altar. Have you ever been asked to “sacrifice” something that was very dear to you?
ISAAC had to choose between two sons for his inheritance. Have you ever had something that couldn’t be shared and you had to choose who would receive it from among your friends?
JACOB wrestled with G-d’s angel and in the morning his name was changed to Yisrael. What new name would you call yourself if you could?
JOSEPH received a beautiful coat from his father that made his brothers very jealous. Have you ever been jealous of something a friend had? Has someone ever been jealous of you?
MOSES was convinced of G-d’s presence by the Burning Bush. Did something unusual ever happen to convince you of something you weren’t sure of before?
AARON was the brother of Moses, the Jewish people’s greatest leader. Do you ever feel you live in your brother’s or sister’s shadow?
DAVID was chased by King Saul, who thought that David was after his throne. Have you ever been bothered by someone who thought you wanted something they had?
Now that you know who the Biblical guests are, think of others you would like to invite into your sukkah and the questions you might ask them.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.