The Ushpizin are the seven hidden hosts who, according to Jewish lore, visit each succah during the seven-day festival. This refers to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. The origin of this visitation can be found in a verse of Zohar,
"When a person is seated in his succah, Abraham and six distinguished visitors partake of his company."(Zohar 5:103b)
Each in turn ushers the others into the succah during the subsequent days of the holiday.
The custom prescribes that every evening the attending host be approached with a different request:
"May it be Your will, my G-d and the G-d of our forefathers that the Divine presence rest upon us...I hereby invite our most valued hosts, Abraham...."
This custom, originally practiced by the kabbalists, and later by the Hassidim, has been adopted by numerous orthodox groups. The sages specified that to merit these seven distinguished hosts, one must invite other "hosts" of flesh and blood from among the poor as well.
Thus developed the tradition of inviting a needy student from the local yeshiva to partake of a meal in the succah--as much an act of general goodwill as a reminder of the heavenly counterpart above. Furthermore, it has become common practice to include in the succah decorations a plaque bearing the names of the seven holiday visitors.(Encyclopedic Dictionary of Judaism, Ed. du Cerf)
Divide the group into seven teams of three to five people, each of which must represent one of the Ushpizin.
Distribute to each team the appropriate text below describing its assigned character, and a Tanach to complement the information. The team members study the life and qualities of their character, and choose one person to present it before the other teams. The representative may disguise himself or herself to better resemble the great personage he or she is to "incarnate."
Having gone thus far with the preparation, one can invent a variety of games:
1) The Portrait Game
- Games of classical or Chinese portraits.
- Each Ushpiz selects five Biblical verses referring to him, and then recites the verses for the other teams. The first to identify the Ushpiz wins, and with each successful guess, the identifying team acquires one less point than it had previously (for example, a team will win five points with its first successful guess, then four points with the second and so on).
- A press conference: The Ushpiz can be asked questions concerning a contemporary event (for example, the peace accords with Jordan or the Palestinians), and according to his answers, the groups must guess his identity.
2) A Press conference
- When all the Ushpizin have been identified, each one goes before the group and the member of the other teams are invited to ask questions concerning his life as related in the Bible.
For example, one might ask Abraham, "How could you agree to offer up your son Isaac as a sacrifice?"
- Each player who asks a valid question (i.e., one that makes sense within the life of the host as presented in scripture), receives a point. If the Ushpiz is unable to provide a satisfactory response, the person who posed the question receives another point.
3) An Electoral Campaign
Each team becomes the headquarters of a political party that must promote its candidate (i.e., its Ushpiz) as "President of the Jewish People."
The teams can make use of the following questions in order to construct their political campaigns.
- What are the main benefits that this character could bring to the Jewish people today?
- What are the best arguments for a campaign on these potential benefits?
- What are the weak points of this character and how can they be justified within the framework of this campaign?
Each party has to prepare an electoral speech to be presented by its candidate, as well as promotional slogans, posters and buttons. The team can also compose and record a song.
Presentation of the Electoral Campaigns
When the various "party" headquarters are ready, the entire group comes together and each party presents its campaign. It should take ten minutes to do this and then a few additional minutes to ask the candidate questions.
It should be made clear to the participants that the vote is free: they need not elect the candidate of their respective parties if there is another who has succeeded in convincing them during the course of the campaign. Seven ballots bearing the names of the seven Ushpitzen should then be distributed to the groups, and they should proceed to vote.
After the ballots have been tallied, the results are made known by posting them on the board.
Analysis of Results
To conclude the activity, the group leader analyzes the results with the group:
- What have we learned about the Ushpizin during the game? Do the teams' various presentations of them faithfully follow from what we learned about them in tradition?
- What won this newly elected character, now "President of the Jewish People," his title? Was it because the electoral campaign was better than the others? Or was it because his character was the most appealing to the group?
- How is the winning character capable of responding to the questions that the Jewish people is asking today?
Separate the existing teams and reform them. Only those who played the Ushpizin retain their roles.
Each new team receives a problem currently facing Jewish people and depicts it in a skit. Each team comes before the group to present its skit.
The leader chooses by lottery the name of one of the Ushpizen who gets up on stage and proceeds to discuss with the actors the current dilemma just depicted, and to offer them a solution to it from the host's perspective and unique wisdom.
In the event that the debate lacks energy and focus, the leader may choose to participate as a second Ushpiz.
1) The entire family is seated around the Shabbat table. Suddenly, one of the children gets up, announces that he wants to go out immediately because his friends have invited him to meet them at a night club, and asks his father for money in order to do this. How do the rest of the family react?
2) The new school year begins on Rosh Hashana. Should the Jewish student go to high school for this first day or not?
3) The evening of the Seder, a non-Jew who has been invited begins to make vaguely anti-Semitic comments. How should those at table react?
4) A son or daughter would like to study a particular programme for matriculation at high school, but is not accepted. S/he is accepted into a very good nearby Christian denominational school. Should the parents allow him or her to enroll?
5) A high school history/geography teacher riddles his or her lectures with anti-Israeli remarks. What do you do?
6) A daughter announces one day that she has been dating a non-Jewish boy for two years, that they are very serious and are now considering marriage, but that she in no way intends to renounce her Judaism. How can one advise her?
7) One of the teenagers in the family is a youth leader and has agreed to be in charge of the preparations for the annual end-of-year party. This is a very important event as it always brings in a lot of money and boosts recruitment of new members. But SATs (matriculation exams) are just two months away. What should the young person do?
8) A son just did very well on his SATs and is accepted at an excellent college. He now announces to his family that he is leaving soon for Israel because he wants to serve in the IDF when he is 18 with the rest of his friends. How do the family react?
5) The round Table
Only the Ushpizin participate in this game while the other participants are spectators of the round table. The Ushpizen are divided into two groups:
A: Abraham, Joseph and Mosesd
B: Isaac, Jacob, Aaron and Davi
The leader submits to each group the text of a problem it is to debate, leaving it some time to study the problem and prepare the debate; problems relate to the current situation of Judaism, for example:
- What should be done to combat assimilation?
- How should Jews relate to the State of Israel?
- Does Judaism define itself by the religion?
- Can one speak of a Jewish people today?
First, group A comes forward, and each Ushpiz addresses the problem through the eyes of his character. Discussion should arise among the participants, and if not, the leader should enter the debate using leading questions. At the end (no more than about 20 minutes), the audience is invited to make comments and ask questions.
Do the same with group B, which will debate a different issue, preferably after separating the two round tables by another activity (singing, games, a snack).
6) The Ushpizin and Sukkot - Discussion
Why does Kabbalist tradition invite these seven Biblical personalities to our succah rather than any others?
This can become the topic of a discussion or mock trial (according to the group and its age). Although we cannot enter all the arguments exhaustively, we recommend the following major lines of debate with use of additional texts on Jewish philosophy.
* According to the Kabbalah, each of the Ushpizin personifies one of the seven "sephirot" or Divine qualities with regard to the earthly world:
Abraham - Hessed [kindness]
Isaac - Gevura [bravery, courage]
Jacob - Tif'eret [glory]
Joseph - Yessod [essence]
Aaron} - Hod, Netzach [excellency, eternity]
David - Malchut [kingship]
* Each Ushpiz personifies one aspect of human perfection. Together, the seven comprise a model of Man, with all the potential perfection.
* The Ushpizin represent Jewish history in temporal terms:
- The past: the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The creation of the Jewish people, the descendants of Jacob, which became "a great nation".
- The present: Moses and Aaron. These two Ushpizin reveal the Torah and its commandments, which affect our daily life. It is incumbent upon us to fulfill the Torah today in order to exist as individual Jews in our own right and as a people.
- The future: Joseph and David. They bring us the Messianic Age, the ground for which will be prepared by the one or more Messiahs descended from Joseph and led by the Messiah descended from David.
* Succot is the last in the cycle of Pilgrim Festivals in the Jewish Year and is the time when the fate of the Jewish People is sealed for the coming year (Hosha'na Rabba). Succot is also followed immediately by the Festival of Simchat Torah, when the annual cycle of Torah reading is completed and recommenced. It is therefore also the appropriate moment for every Jew to examine his or her conscience on their future destiny, before entering the new year.
For this reason, every individual needs the support of the seven most prominent archetypes of Judaism as an example in their search for their own path.
* Succot is the Festival of Rejoicing, when the Jews who have stored their harvest and grapes thank the Almighty for the goodness of the outgoing year and celebrate their joy for seven days in the succah in order to recoup their strength for the year ahead. This joy would be incomplete without the participation of the seven most eminent Jewish figures; every householder strives to worthy of these guests.
As they are symbolically received into the succah, the Ushpizin attain the status of most elevated guests one could ever welcome into one's home.
Feel free to modify the list of Ushpizin according to the interests of the group.
If you want to add a feminine element to the Ushpizin, you can present them in couples as they appear in the Scripture (Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, etc. NB: Aaron's wife was called Elisheva - see EXODUS, 6:23).
One or two Ushpizin may also be omitted and replaced with Biblical heroines, such as Miriam, Ruth, Deborah, Esther.
Translation - Hannah Salm