Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sacred Guests (Ushpizin) and Holy Spaces - Sukkot

In the Essential Kabbalah Daniel Matt writes, “The essence of serving God and of all the mitzvot is to attain the state of humility, that is, to understand that all your physical and mental powers and your essential being depend on the divine elements within. You are simply a channel for the divine attributes. You attain this humility through the awe of God’s vastness, through realizing that ‘there is no place empty of it.’”
During the first week of October, we will be celebrating the fall festival of Sukkot. Known as heChag, the Festival, Sukkot commemorates both the fall harvest and the time our ancestors wandered in the wilderness before attaining the land of Eretz Yisrael. During their travels, they built portable structures, sukkot, which we commemorate with our annual construction projects to this various day. There are numerous guidelines for how to build a proper sukkah. One of the key elements is that it must have a natural covering by which you can see the stars in the night sky.
Another element involves dwelling in our sukkah. In particular we are to dine there and invite guests to join us. Family, friends, and ushpizin, sacred guests including Abraham, Moses, and Aaron, as well as Sarah, Miriam, and Devorah all join us as we celebrate together.
There is another observance associated with Sukkot, though in truth, it is actually a separate holiday. It is the festival of Hoshana Rabbah. Hoshana Rabbah takes place on the last day of Sukkot, and is considered to be the day when our fates are sealed in the Book of Life. It includes a service with seven Hakafot with the Torah, lulav, and etrog all while Hoshanot are recited. Five willow branches are also beaten on the ground to help us symbolically remove our sins as the penitential season comes to an end.
But more than that, Hoshana Rabbah is the time where we invite God to join us as we dwell one last time in the Sukkah. In many ways this is akin to the kabbalistic notion that there is no place devoid of God.
May your sukkahs this year be strong and lasting. May you be joined by wonderful and delightful company. And may you find God’s holy presence in all of your dwelling places, which in turn, may help you find holiness in yourselves, in your lives, and in the greater world as well.

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