Ushpizin: Welcoming Seven Holy Guests of Social Justice Work

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

At Sukkot, Jewish tradition encourages us to welcome seven holy guests (ushpizinushpizinאֻשְׁפִּיזִין"Guests" (Aramaic); mythic guests invited to the sukkah. ) into our sukkotsukkahסֻכָּה"Booth" or "hut;" temporary structure associated with the agricultural festival of Sukkot; plural: sukkot. , one for each night of the week. In a modern variation to this custom, each night can be connected to a related social action theme.

First Night: Abraham and Sarah

On the first night we welcome Abraham and Sarah, the primary exemplars of hospitality and welcoming. They teach us chesed, lovingkindness. Whom do we invite into our homes? What are other groups that we might welcome more warmly into our lives, homes, or communities?

Second Night: Isaac and Rebecca

On this night, we welcome Isaac and Rebecca, who teach us gevurah, strength. Isaac is an exemplar of powerlessness – one who was passive and had no will of his own. On the other hand, Rebecca, by causing Jacob to take his brother's birthright, is an exemplar of proactivity, taking control over the future of her people.

When might it be best to sit back and subdue ourselves, and when is it important to take action for what we believe in? What are examples of actions that we can be taking in order to ensure a better future for humankind?

Third Night: Jacob and Rachel

Tonight, we welcome Jacob and Rachel. Jacob fell in love with Rachel because of her beauty, rejecting her sister, Leah, who had "weak eyes."

What role does physical appearance play in our lives? How can we embrace diverse beauty concepts that recognize the value in various cultures and backgrounds? In what ways do we discriminate on the basis of physical characteristics and abilities? How can we ensure justice and equality for all, regardless of appearance?

Fourth Night: Yocheved and Moses

On the fourth night, we welcome Yocheved and her son, Moses. Yocheved ensured the survival of the Jewish people by defying the ruling power and saving Moses.

Moses' acts of leadership resulted in our freedom from slavery. They encourage us to remember the importance of standing up for what is right and taking action to bring about justice for ourselves and others. Today, are there others who are still struggling for their freedom? What is our responsibility to those people?

Fifth Night: Miriam and Aaron

On this night, we welcome Miriam and her brother, Aaron. Miriam and Aaron are known for their words: Miriam led the women in song at the shore of the sea, and was also punished for spreading gossip about her sister-in-law. Aaron was Moses' spokesperson, standing up to Pharaoh and helping the Israelites find freedom.

How do we use our speech to hurt or demean others, or to make the world a better place? How can we use communication to create change? What are some specific ways we can raise our voices to speak out for social justice?

Sixth Night: Joseph and Osnat

Tonight we welcome Joseph and his Egyptian wife, Osnat. After suffering injustice and servitude, Joseph became quite powerful in the land of Egypt. Both Joseph and Osnat are symbols of wealth, power, and abundance.

The Israelites found refuge in Egypt as they fled famine; so too, many now come to America to find a better life. How might this analogy affect our perception of America's role in the world? What should our sense of responsibility and action be in light of our overall wealth and power?

Seventh Night: David and Michal

On the last night of Sukkot, we welcome David and his wife, Michal. Although he is remembered as a great leader, as king, David shed much blood and abused the power of his office for personal gain.

Today as well, world leaders have the capacity to make war or peace, to use their authority to help others or to achieve personal profit. Do our leaders use their power wisely? If not, what is our responsibility to make sure that they do?

We'd love to hear your answers