Honored Guests

Every year we welcome into our Succot some of the most distinguished guests in Jewish history – the “Ushpizin” – Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon and David. It is the Jewish dream team and a mystic’s delight, but for the rest of us – why are they here and what do they teach us?
Rav Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the UK, once told the following story. In the year 2000, he was invited to deliver the annual St. George Lecture at Windsor Castle, the first Jew ever so honored. He was overwhelmed by the thought of it – and what he would say – especially considering that Windsor Castle is the oldest royal castle in the world in continuous use since its construction in the 1070’s by William the Conqueror, a decade after the Norman Conquest. Kings and queens have used that residence ever since and much happened to us while they were there.

In the almost 1000 years since, Jews underwent great hardship in the UK – starting with the blood libel in Norwich in 1144, the massacre in York in 1190 (there’s a kinah that describes that), and the expulsion of Jews in 1290 by King Edward I. Jews did not return legally to Britain until Oliver Cromwell permitted them in 1657. And Rabbi Sacks wondered: if those Jews could talk, what would they say now?

What he did say was this: I’m trying to put myself in the mindset of someone who inherits this castle and who lives here. The place is saturated with history. Every royal who lives here sees this home as his personal history, but also as the history of a nation. The residents therefore have moral obligations to the past and the future, and not just the present. Every resident becomes part of that history, the history of Windsor Castle, and he has to preserve it for the next generation of Windsors, the next generation of royalty. This is life lived not just an individual but in an historical context.

Jews, he said, do not have castles. We do not have castles but our history, our memory, is built through words. In context, he meant the hagada – the lecture occurred before Pesach – words that emanate from the commandment of “and you shall relate to your children on that day,” to impart the story of Israel to every new generation. We don’t need buildings of brick and stone if we know the words, and the words are transmitted from generation to generation, century after century, millennium after millennium, frequently under conditions of hardships and travails. And every child is taught the words, because that is his legacy – to transmit those words to his children.

Edmund Burke wrote that “a partnership is not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born.” Burke meant that everyone in society is part of the partnership – but we mean it as referring to the great Jewish odyssey. Indeed, the venerable Labor ideologue Yitzchak Tabenkin told David Ben Gurion not to accede to the partition demands of the Peel Commission, because he had “consulted” both his grandfather and his grandson, and neither would tolerate one generation’s surrender of the ancestral land of the Jewish people. No individual generation has the right to betray the past or the future.

I would take it a step further. Jews don’t have Windsor Castles; those do not represent our essence. We have our words but I would expand that too: what we have our experiences – experiences that we cherish, that define us, that keep us connected to G-d and to our people and that we transmit from one generation to the next.

We don’t need a fancy castle because we have a Succa – and in that Succa we hear the echoes of the giants of our history. The beauty of our history is that they – the Ushpizin – are the constants; we are transient. In our Succa, the guests are always the same – the Ushpizin; only the hosts change from year to year.

And what we convey most to our children are those experiences – of the Succa and the seder, of Shabbat and the shofar, of prayer and Torah study, of the innumerable acts and cherished values – that will both shape them and fully equip them with the means to live not just in the moment but in history, to see themselves as partners in the grand plan of the Creator in history.

“So that generations will know that I caused you to dwell in Succot when I took you out from the land of Egypt, I am G-d.” We dwell in the Succa so that we can transcend the generations – so that all generations will know that G-d has preserved us from time immemorial until this very day. Those Succot in the wilderness began our journey, which will culminate, as the prophet Zecharia taught, when all nations will come to Yerushalayim to celebrate Succot, in the era when G-d’s kingship will appear on earth and the entire world will pay homage to G-d, “and He will be One and His name will be One.”

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4 responses to “Honored Guests

  1. Él-Ad Eliovson

    Beautiful. L’Shanah Tovah vChazak uBaruch!

  2. Philip Mannes

    Dear Rabbi,
    I was born in NYC into a Jewish family, underwent the traditional Hebrew school indoctrination(argued with the Rabbinical instructors daily about the preposterous biblical genesis), even took Hebrew in PS104 and was Bar Mitsvah’d….I was born a political conservative, and have never understood why Jews as a group are so damn liberal. I understand the survival value of pragmatism, but ignoring the moral and principled imperative of supporting the document that defines the Republic and voting for known corrupt political leaders because they call themselves Democrats is incomprehensible!!…By the way, I’m a tired(85), over educated consulting aerospace engineer, with multiple degrees in both the physical and biological sciences…So I should understand “the question”…BTW, If God was so enamored with the Jews, why did he give them the only piece of land in the middle east without oil, and additionally forbid them the consumption of bacon, babyback ribs, lobster, shrimp, all cephalopods, crustaceans,etc…?… L’Shanah Tovah

    • The voting pattern of Jews is simply inexplicable.
      The other questions can be answered! Israel is now blessed with an abundance of natural gas reserves. Nevertheless, our contribution to the world is not material but primarily spiritual. If Israel would have been blessed with natural resources, it would have been even more likely that we would have ignored our mission.
      Additionally, the laws of kashrut are considered a chok, meaning that the reason for the precise detail – why some things are permitted and some prohibited – is beyond human logic. Generally, though, kashrut makes us into a holy people and we are sanctified by subjecting our eating to rigorous rules. Otherwise, we are little different from animals. Thus, we eat with a purpose and transform a fundamentally animalistic act into an act of divine service.
      – RSP

  3. One year Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz (born 1728, died 1790 CE) had no guests in his sukkah. He saw Avraham Avinu standing outside his sukkah.

    The Rabbi invited Avraham Avinu to enter, but he refused to enter a sukkah that had no guests.

    SOURCE: Prayerfully Yours (page 423) by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski MD, year 2001 CE, Shaar Press, ISBN 1-57819-488-1.

    Mishnah Berurah commentary on Chelek Orach Chaim, Siman 625, end of Sif Katan 1:
    Acharonim wrote: Every time we dwell in the sukkah we must remind ourselves that we are doing so to remember the Exodus from Egypt and the Clouds of Glory [Ananei HaKavod] which surrounded us at that time to protect us from the heat and sun. Whoever does not have these intentions in the sukkah, he has only done the mitzvah of Sukkah BeDieved!!

    PLEASE help SUE the terrorists in court:
    www dot IsraelLawCenter dot org
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