Who will you invite to your Sukkah?
Rabin Mati Kirschenbaum
One of my favourite Sukkot traditions is Ushpizin, a Kabbalistic custom of ‘inviting’ spiritual ancestors of the Jewish people to the Sukkah on every day of the festival. In Orthodox Judaism, the guest list was limited to males: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. Each of these guests was supposed to represent a sefirah, a distinct aspect of Divine presence. Non-Orthodox Judaism tried to complement this list with illustrious Biblical heroines. One of the suggested lists included seven biblical prophetesses: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda, and Esther. Others suggested that seven sefirot, divine attributes are embodied by Ruth, Sarah, Rebecca, Miriam, Deborah, Tamar, and Rachel. As you can see, there isn’t one clear understanding regarding the right guests who we should invite to our Sukkot. They don’t even have to be biblical characters. What matters is that we are inspired by their example, by virtues and causes they represent, by the heritage they connect us with. All we have to do is to think of great figures from Jewish history that we would want to invite for a meal, to get to know in person. I am sure that each of you has your personal favourites. This Sukkot, as a Polish Progressive Jew, I would like to introduce to my Polish Ushpizin - characters from Polish Jewish history - that I would love to welcome to my Sukkah. Just like the biblical characters, they represent seven sefirot - Divine aspects - our Polish Jewish heritage.
Janusz Korczak (1978-1942) - Chesed (Loving Kindness).
Janusz Korczak embodies loving kindness. This quality is best expressed in his words:
I exist not to be loved and admired, but to love and act. It is not the duty of
those around me to love me. Rather, it is my duty to be concerned about the
world, about man.
Julian Tuwim (1894-1953) - Gevurah (Steadfast commitment to one’s values)
Julian Tuwim embodied steadfast dedication to speaking up in the face of injustice. His poem, the Common Man, expresses this sentiment:
When press begins the battle-cry
That nation needs to unify
And for your country you must die...
Dear brainwashed friend, my neighbor dear
Brother from this, or other nation
Know that the cries of anger, fear,
Are nothing but manipulation
by fat-cats, kings who covet riches,
And feed off your sweat and blood - the leeches!
When call to arms engulfs the land
It means that somewhere oil was found,
Shooting 'blackgold' from underground!
It means they found a sneaky way
To make more money, grab more gold
But this is not what you are told!
Markus Jastrow (1829-1903) - Tiferet (Harmony, reconciliation)
Markus Jastrow believed that Jews and Poles can build a future together. His sermon, delivered in 1861, expresses the hope for the future defined by sense of brotherhood between our nations:
I am seeking brotherly love that would recognise me as the brother of my
brothers; I am seeking brotherly tolerance, that would let me uphold my
convictions, however different they may be, when it comes to matters of which
only God can serve as a judge; Furthermore, I am seeking brotherly
understanding for my weaknesses, brought upon me by times of misery, when,
just like Joseph, I was groaning in a dark pit surrounded by serpents and
vipers; in other words; I am seeking my brothers, those whom my teachings
command me to recognise as my brothers. – Such is precisely the call of the
people of Israel both today and in all places where they still have not been able
to find their brothers.
Puah Rakovsky (1865-1955) - Netzah (Perseverance)
Puah Rakovsky devoted her life to the struggle for women’s rights. Her words and life embody the virtue of perseverance:
With that hope in mind (education), I settled in Warsaw that first year, finding
room and board for myself and my little daughter in a boarding house. I lived
frugally so that I could save enough from my income that year to be able to
travel abroad to study. But one thing bothered me very much: should I take
both children with me or leave the boy to be educated by my father. I was
afraid that such an education would separate my own child from me since my
father and I were far apart spiritually, and the distance was liable to open a
chasm between me and my son. This internal struggle lasted almost a whole
year and ended with a triumph of maternal love. I decided I could complete
my studies at a university of Warsaw, where instruction would be in Russian. I
wrote wrote my parents to bring my son to me, rented a small apartment in a
poor neighbourhood, and made do on my salary.
It is incumbent on women to, making the highest effort, obtain positions in
economy, legislature and government.
Bruno Schulz (1892-1942) - Hod (Acceptance)
Bruno Schulz was aware that sometimes we find greatness in accepting our limitations. He wrote:
Ordinary facts are arranged within time, strung along its length as on a thread.
There they have their antecedents and their consequences, which crowd
tightly together and press hard one upon the other without any pause. This
has its importance for any narrative, of which continuity and successiveness
are the soul.
Could it be that time is too narrow for all events? Could it happen that all the
seats within time might have been sold? Worried, we run along the train of
events, preparing ourselves for the journey.
Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) - Yesod (Foundational principles)
Rosa Luxemburg believed that freedom for all should be a foundation of a just society. She wrote:
Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of
the Party — though they are quite numerous — is no freedom at all. Freedom
is always the freedom of dissenters.
Zuzanna Ginczanka (1917-1945) - Malchut (Sovereignty, Independence)
Zuzanna Ginczanka was a firm believer that each individual has the right to find their own path in life and to thread it on their own terms. Her poem ‘Justified in The Margins’ expresses this belief:
I did not come from dust, so I won't go back to dust.
I did not come from heaven so I am not heaven-bound.
I myself am heaven, a sky of purest glass.
And earth itself am I, a child of native ground.
I did not run at all, so I won't be running back.
Apart from my own self, all else is unconfined.
My lungs bellowing wind all sediments do crack
And I, fragmented, here now myself must find.
I hope you were inspired by my Ushpizin and Ushpizot. This Sukkot, I encourage you to think about which famous historical Jews you would like to meet. When you think about them, they will join you in your Sukkah, bringing insight and inspiration. I wish you all a happy end of Sukkkot!
Janusz Korczak, Ghetto Diary (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 69.
Translation found on https://allpoetry.com/The-Common-Man, accessed October 12, 2022.
Markus Jastrow, "Modlitwa i Kazanie miane podczas nabożeństwa żałobnego odprawionego w d. 27. Adar 5621 (9. Marca 1861) za dusze ofiar poległych dnia 27. Lutego t. r." [Prayer and sermon delivered at the mourning service conducted on Adar 27th 5621 (March 9th 1861) in memory of the souls of the Victims fallen on February 27th this year] (1861), in Kazania miane podczas ostatnich wypadków w Warszawie r. 1861 [Sermons given during the latest incidents in Warsaw in 1861] (Poznan: Ludwik Merzbach, 1862), 19. English translation (unpublished) by Marzena Szymańska-Błotnicka
Puah Rakovsky, My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman: Memoirs of a Zionist Feminist in Poland, ed.
Paula Hyman (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 29.
My translation of Puah Rakovsky, ‘Czy można połączyć pracę społeczną z obowiązkami rodzinnemi?’
[Can one combine community work with family obligations?], article published in Ewa [Eve.
Polish-language weekly newspaper for Jewish women], January 13, 1929
Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories, (London:Penguin Classics, 2008), 129.
My translation of the quote from Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 4, (Berlin (Ost): Dietz
Verlag, 1983), 359.
Zuzanna Ginczanka, "Wyjaśnienie na marginesie." [Justified in The Margins] in O centaurach [Of
Centaurs] (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo J. Przeworskiego, 1936), 26. Translation of the poem Wyjaśnienie na marginesie [Justified in The Margins] found at