Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.


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Monday, October 01, 2007

Unraveling Ushpizin

Many of you are familiar with the Sukkos custom of Ushpizin, welcoming seven of our forefathers as symbolic guests in the sukkah, one visitor each night of Sukkos. I didn't grow up with this custom; my father was a died-in-the wool rationalist/litvak in attitude, and though he did pick up a couple of chassidic/kabbalistic minhagim somewhere, Ushpizin apparently wasn't one of them. However, I learned quite a bit about this practice from him, including the derivation of its name. "Ushpizin" is Greek in origin, from a word meaning, simply, "guests"; the same root that gives us words like "hospice/hospitality" and "auspices" in English.

The list of sukkah Ushpizin is generally given, in order of day, as: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, David. Two questions can be asked relating to tonight's Ushpiz, Joseph. Firstly, the usual list of forefathers used in "mishebayrachs" and similar contexts are "Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, David, and Solomon". Why does Joseph appear here instead of Solomon? And secondly, Joseph seems to have been inserted into the list out of order; he should appear, chronologically, after Jacob and before Moses, but instead is welcomed tonight, the sixth night of Sukkos, just before David.

The first question has, in my opinion, a rather straightforward answer. The Ushpizin are visitors, travelers, those who are away from their homes and must be hosted elsewhere. This is a fitting symbolism for the holiday of Sukkos as a whole, where we leave our snug houses and spend seven days living in rough, temporary booths. Fittingly, all seven of the avos who serve as Ushpizin are also individuals who spent a good part of their lives wandering, exiled, or even on the run, "strangers in a strange land" as Moses put it. This particularly applies to Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his own brothers at seventeen, and never merited to settle back home in his native land.

Solomon, by contrast, was born into royalty and lived in a palace all his life (demonic midrashim notwithstanding). Thus, he is much less appropriate as a symbol of a wandering Sukkos guest than are the others. In a way, Solomon can be seen as the Ushpiz of Shimini Atzeres, the separate holiday which follows Sukkos and represents our joyful return to our fixed, comfortable homes after these seven days in rustic booths. Perhaps this is one reason we read about Solomon in the haftarah of Shmini Atzeres (and originally, Simchas Torah as well).

As for the second question, why the Ushpiz of Joseph is out of order, I understand there are kabbalistic answers relating to there being a future "Mashiach Ben Joseph" preceding Mashiach Ben David. But I personally prefer my dad's theory, which, characteristically, brings mathematical precision into the story, as follows: Each Ushpiz's day of Sukkos lines up with the weekday of his birth/death, with Joseph filling the "empty" slot on day six.

Now, the birth/death dates of six of the Ushpizin - all of the others besides Joseph, in fact - are found in the chumash and gemara:
- The Avos, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were all born on Rosh Hashanah, according to most views
- Moses was born on the 7th of Adar
- Aaron was born on Rosh Chodesh Av
- David was born on Shavous, the 6th of Sivan

And the day of the week that each of these dates fall can be calculated in terms of the following Sukkos holiday:
- Rosh Hashanah, of course, comes out on the same day of the week as the first day of Sukkos. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob's Ushpizin day should all fall on this first day, but since each Ushpiz must have his own day, Isaac is pushed to day two and Jacob to day three.
- The 7th of Adar, like the Purim holiday just one week later, always falls on the same weekday as the 4th day of Sukkos - e.g., Purim this past year was Sunday, like the 4th day of this Sukkos. Thus, Moses is given this day for his Ushpiz, displacing Joseph out of order.
- Rosh Chodesh Av always falls one day before Tisha B'av, or the same weekday as the 5th day of Sukkos - e.g., Rosh Chodesh Av this past year was Monday, like the 5th day of this Sukkos. Thus, Aaron is given this day for his Ushpiz.
- The sixth day of Sukkos, corresponding to none of these birthdays, is used for the "bumped" ushpiz, Joseph.
- Finally, Shavous always falls one day before Sukkos, or the same weekday as the 7th day of Sukkos - e.g., Shavous this past year was Wednesday, like the last day of this Sukkos. Thus David, who was born and died on Shavuos, has his Ushpiz on the last day of Sukkos.

Leave it to my dad to come up with a purely litvish/rationalist explanation of a purely kabbalistic anomaly! His theory may be an utter coincidence, but I love it anyway!

3 Comments:

At 10/2/07, 1:30 PM, Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Yosef was "bumped?" He seems to have caught a decent flight, anyway. :)

 
At 10/3/07, 5:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We "litvaks" have the ushpizen intheir chronological order, i.e Yosef is on the fourth day. Yosef being on the sixth day is minhag Haari Hakadosh.

I liked your tying the days of the ushpizin to their yartzeits.

 
At 6/20/11, 2:50 PM, Anonymous menachem said...

This is a pirush of the Minchas Elazar, the Minkatcher Rebbe. See a Jewish Press article here (just hit cancel on the print option), and the source here

 

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