By Laura Seymour
Being Jewish means enjoying great holidays with a lot of 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 orchin — welcoming guests, is practiced at Sukkot in a very special way. The tradition of ushpizin (guest) began in the 16th century and involves inviting a different biblical guest each night of Sukkot using special words of welcome to honor the visitor.
According to the Midrash, the shelter of the Sukkot was available to the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness solely as a result of Abraham’s offer of hospitality centuries before to the three strangers who appeared to tell Abraham and Sarah they would have a child. That is a great explanation but the real message is we should always show kindness and proper hospitality to others.
Here are biblical ushpizin for each night and a topic for family discussion:
Abraham was told by God to take his 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 which of his two sons would receive his inheritance. Have you ever had something that couldn’t be shared that required choosing between your friends?
Jacob wrestled with God’s Angel, and the following morning changed his name 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 some one ever been jealous of you?
Moses was convinced of God’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 the biblical guests to invite, think of others you would like to invite into your sukkah and the questions you might ask them.
Laura Seymour is director, Jewish Life and Learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.