I love Jewish holidays — some more than others — but every holiday has something special to love. Sukkot is a wonderful holiday for those of us who love the out-of-doors.
The messages of the wonder of the natural world blend with the historical messages of wandering and harvesting (real today as well) and the newer thoughts of appreciation that we have a permanent home to return to. Building a sukkah and “dwelling” in it is fun and meaningful at all ages.
However, my favorite part of the holiday of Sukkot is the visitors we invite into our sukkah. Yes, the real live people are great but it is those characters we call the “ushpizin” (Aramaic for guests) that make my imagination take off. Who will we invite in this year? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and King David are the traditional ones. Each night we can tell the stories about these biblical heroes and talk about what made them heroes and what we can learn from their stories. These guys are famous in biblical history and there is much to discover and share — and even argue about. (For example, we just read about Abraham nearly sacrificing Isaac — what is that all about? Is that a model for us to follow?) A more modern tradition is to invite “ushpizot,” the women who were famous in our history. As I look through the list, these names are familiar: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah and Esther. We all probably know a little something or even a lot about these brave women. But there are two more that are less known to many of us: Avigail and Huldah. Here is just a brief description:
Avigail: She is married to a wealthy husband, Nabal. David, not yet king of Israel, travels to their tribal area and asks Nabal for hospitality. Nabal refuses and David is so angry that he gets ready to fight him. Avigail brings David food and drink and asks him to spare her husband. A very fine woman but there must be more to the story — why should she be included in our ushpizot?
Huldah: She is a prophet during the time of King Josiah (mid-7th century BCE). Josiah finds a Scroll of the Law in the Temple and sends his men to Huldah, asking if the scroll is authentic. This story is told affirming that prophecy was a role practiced by women in antiquity.
Hmmm? Not so sure I would have included her so I’d better learn more how she got onto the list.
So now it is your turn to come up with ushpizin and ushpizot that you would invite into your sukkah. You may choose anyone from history or alive today. I am not sure if presidential candidates should be on the list but why not?
And have a meaningful Sukkot!