Who Do We Invite to the Succah and Why?

Andy & Friends Succah

Since Succot is a time for us to celebrate the blessings in our lives, it is only fitting that we are instructed to share our bounty with others. As it is written in the book of Deuteronomy (16:14):
“And you shall rejoice on your Festival (Succot)—you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are within your cities.”

Succot is a time for communal celebration, an occasion to rejoice with family, friends, and even acquaintances for an entire week. For seven days, we eat, drink, and relax in our succot (plural for succah), some people even sleep in their succot during the holiday.

One beautiful mystical tradition on Succot is to invite both earthly and otherworldly guests into our festival booths. In the Zohar, the great work of medieval Jewish mysticism, we learn that on each night of the seven-day holiday, the kabbalists (Jewish mystics) would stand at the threshold of their succot and invite seven great spirits from the Jewish past to join them for the sacred meal.

On the first night, Abraham is said to lead this holy assembly, and on each successive night they are led by Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. These figures represent different virtues: love, rigor, harmony, endurance, connectivity, humility, and royalty. Each night, these special guests bless us with these qualities.


pictured clockwise from upper right: Andy’s mother, Myra Outwater, Andy’s brother Laurence, Andy and childhood friends Mike and Doug

In the last few decades, many people have revived this Jewish mystical tradition known as Ushpizin (meaning “Guests” in Aramaic), adding the foremothers and other great biblical women—Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Deborah and Ruth—to the list of special guests, as well as other outstanding historical and literary figures whose influence and blessing they seek on Succot.

The Zohar is careful to point out that if one should only invite these supernal guests, and not earthly guests in need of a succot meal, the great spirits will immediately take leave; for the holiday cannot be celebrated mystically without demonstrating earthly hospitality.

So this year, invite as many family members, friends, and acquaintances to your succah as possible. And as you gather with these guests, envision who else might join you for a holiday meal!