Ushpizin: Unity among praying guests

The feast of Sukkot/Booths allows enjoying a break, even in this period of international turmoil and revolving redeeming days of renewal. How come that currencies, bonds, stock exchanges feverishly try to find a right level while Israel is keeping rather quietly her way. Our way is to cross the wilderness, the jungle/der helfker [דער הפקר] as we said in Yiddish. It is one of my favorite poem: “Don’t think the world has been created to make your way by fighting with fists and and nails – mayn nit di velt iz a hefker bashaf’n mach’n a veg mit foyst’n un neg’l – מיין ניט די וועלט איז א הפקר באשאפן מאכן א וועג מיט פויסטן און נייגל.

“There is a time for throwing away the stones and a time to assemble them together” (Qohelet 3:5). Kohelet is the Book for the feast of the Tabernacles. Human nature is lifted up from odd vapor (no vanity) to the plenitude of the Great Assembly. Unity? This is last “tzig – ציג” that may reinforce our abilities to overcome any tempest. in Yiddish, a “tzig” is a “sudden parasitic irrational idea or breaking-in thought that cannot be controlled; it drives out to wandering deeds full of nonsense”. We had it with Stock exchange markets last week. It should continue for quite a long period. It makes no sense but it is a compelling situation that does not really exist. Irrationality is a major spiritual feature in times of hardship. They are signs of renewing changes. People may not stand them. Faith makes them “usual stuff”.

Indeed, power is a matter of wisdom, equilibrium, wit, insights and terrible temptation to get beyond corruption. This affects economics, historic events and synagogal or ecclesial leaders together as ordinary people. There is a moment when rulers, despots – i.e. also the humans they are supposedly governing – drown altogether: they have to face that they are none or nil. They are poor and even poorer than the needy they should help. At this point, human beings are all the same, except that monotheistic religions have a very special system “to push from collapsing to rising”. This move opens the way for “ONE-ness – at-ONE-ment”.

Unity is the consequence of a process that resembles the reality of the original “Big Bang”. There are many ways in contemplating the unity of Oneness of God and uniqueness of connection between creation, human beings – One Holy Congregation – and the Creator. This is one of the major but rather ignored aspects of Tehillim/Psalm 102:1: “A prayer of the “afflicted/poor” [and when he is overwhelmed and pours out his complaint before the Lord]תפילה לעני = tefillah le’ani” (Introduction). In Jewish tradition, the Omnipresent shows His likeness with the human beings: they complain to Him as He complains to them and they are both in need of building up one indivisible body.

This is at the heart of the “Tikkun Hoshana Rabbaתיקון הושענא רבה – the chants for Hoshana Rabba” recited on Monday this year, before Shemini Atzeret/שמני עצרת, the full joyous gladness to celebrate the unity of the holy congregation on the last day of Sukkot.

Unity implies begging God: He ought to show His Gifts: the prayer for His blessing through rain for Eretz Israel is a cry for a new and blest portion of time that will endure over a full year. There is no shame to ask, to cry out in order to get, to knock and wait: even technical devices that can cause rain to fall, will not do it the way the Almighty will. He intends to give us more than we expect.

Most monotheistic religions are trying to gather in their believers, counting their “manpower” fellowships. The Jews have the traditional “Sound the great shofar for our freedom; and raise a banner [show a sign, a miracle/wonder – ושא נס] to gather our exiled and bring us together-one from the four corner of the earth into our land = = לקבץ גליותינו וקבצנו יחד מארבע כנפות הארץ לארצנו” (18 Benedictions/Amidah). Sukkot – a commemoration that disappeared from Christian feasts – is going through a strong reviving process in Judaism. Each year, a lot of Christian believers, mainly from the Protestant countries, join the Jewish congregations in Jerusalem. Chassidic groups reinforce the teaching of the Seven Noahide Laws for the “Gentes/Gentiles”. The burden of history is so heavy that Christianity is not recognized as coherent. They are proposed to accept the full Noahide rules at Sukkot. This part of a real spiritual move remains unknown to the Christians that are not denied as “local ethnic/political groups”. Intriguingly enough, these “chukim – קוחים/laws” are proposed in one way to those who are or become Christians through baptism. On the other hand, Jewish groups systematically teach them to the non-Jews. Rashi’s decision that the Christians are no more “idolaters/ ovdey zarah – עובדי זרה” is basically not recognized by the Orthodox Jews. These rules are therefore a key-point for the present dialogue between Jews and Christians.

At the present, the tremendous changes that happened throughout Europe some 20 years ago allow the emerging of hidden Churches in the former communist countries and Greece. The Albanian Church rose up again. The Serbian Church goes through pressures born of the splits that affect the former Yugoslavian republic. North Cypriote Churches are closed. St. Paul’s 2000th anniversary allows the Orthodox Churches to gather and re-consider how to face modernity while keeping the teachings of the Fathers and the Scripture. Some patriarchates or “self-ruled autonomous / autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches” would be tempted to seize back some properties. They would like to get back some faithful that got astray for political reasons. Other Churches are tempted by a new kind of ethnic nationalism [phyletism]. All the Churches are submitted to a new formatting process. At this point, the real teaching of the Church and true sharing of Eucharist should allow avoiding us to commit with splits or underground/open captures.

Everything is stretching out to “a cosmic Liturgy” that should be taught as the marvels of God’s creation: “Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together, before the Lord – for He comes to judge the earth; with righteousness shall He judge the world and the people with equity (Psalm 98:7-9). This is our actual situation of turbulences. Things will be settled, but at what price.

This is the challenge for more unity! At a time of firing the workers, wasting stocks and money, food and fashion, sea and sex pollution and absence of basic morals. People are thirsty not to be left alone. It is seems difficult to be connected for a long time. Still, on the seventh day the Lord always been involved in the gigantic task of wedding people and matching creative ideas.

In Hebrew, the Aramaic word “ushpaz אושפז = the guest [who is welcome]” either in an inn or at the hospital (“ishpuz/ אישפוז”). The “ushpizin – אושפיזין” are the special guests that come as praying guests to gather in the Jewish people under the tents. “Ushppeyz אושפיז = a night’s lodging” and it is stated: “The man has a lodging place in Palestine (= he is an occasional resident), which means that he is not at home, in a permanent house (“beyta/ ביתא”) (Gittin 44b). Another statement: “The Divine fire took up its abode now here and now there” (Zevachim 61b). Guests and hosts are considered as enigmatic, uncertain characters. Well, the booths remind the wanderings through the wilderness, a time of great insecurity and lack of stability.

This is what we are most often at the present with multi-faceted personalities or unrecognized identities, both in real and virtual life. “it is customary to leave here and there empty jars and hides of slaughtered animals in an inn = ushpiza/ אושפזא-אי” (Yoma 12a). Each day of Sukkot, the Ushpizin come at night by turn: Abraham Avinu, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Moses/Moshe Rabbenu, Aaron the High Priest, Joseph son of Jacob who saved the small family in Egypt and David who is considered as a messiah. It is highly important in Israel that women groups could, partly for the moment, add the “mother ushpizot/ אושפיזות” : Sarah, Myriam, Deborah, Hannah, Huldah, Abigail and Esther. By the time of Sukkot, all human beigns are called to welcome these special guests and be hosted whether Jews and non-Jews alike. It is an open inn, a real hospitality center (!) as Abraham did when he was welcoming anyone under his open tent in the heat of the day. At night, God provides a shelter and protects the inmates.

Still, the identity of the living looks like a quiz: “ish-pi-z-na/איש-פי-ז-נא = our inn, what’s its character?” echoes to Eruvin 53b. Unknown individuals or groups are still welcome by the Lord of the universe. The Israeli film “Ushpizin” insisted on the redeeming part of the “etrog אתרוג – citrus” for a poor family that was saved after the way suggested by the Breslover Rebbe. The Christian tradition has this sense of hospitality for the man saved by the good Samaritan “who was journeying here and there and paid for the lodging of the injured who spent the night at the local inn (Luke 10:33).

* * * * * * *

This is why it is so captivating, this year, to define in which way we are a “whole, full” human and spiritual community, clarifying the existence of different congregations, synagogues or churches, denominations. of our faith to “those near and those afar” (Eph. 2:17). To begin with, there were some Semits herding in the wilderness. Ropes or lines were used to defined a sacred area on the soil. Or small tents “ohel”: sheet covers in caravans (Talmud Erubin I, 19d). The ancient Semitic root suggests a comparison with “ahalaאהלא” or healing substance as “aloe” in Tractate Shabbat 90a: a place for resting, dwell, feel comfortable. Note that, at the present, there are in the Negev, some “ohaley shalomאוהלי שלום” (tents of peace) inciting tourists or travelers to refresh and meditate under these open tents.

Basically, before and after the Temples, the point does not focus on buildings, but on the ingathering of human beings. “Kahalקהל”: God’s Voice is heard to ingather and call public assembly to teach (Talmud Avodah Zarah 18a). This is a call to get assembled: “the tribes are called Kahal”(Tractate Horayot 46a). Thus, “I will praiseYou in the assembly/betoch qahal ahal’lechaבתוך אהללך” (Psalm 22:23). Indeed, “Kanasכנס” (to gather, store) developed into “Knessetכנסת”: “assembly of worshippers, synagogue” (Berachot 6a, especially the synagogue of Alexandria with its glorious columns, Tractate Sukka 51b). “Hikhnisהכניס” = “to introduce”; “k’nasכנס”: to receive, enter, marry (Erubin III,21b).

This means that, before embodying any building, the congregation exists as an“assembly” because of a call from God, accepted and received. In Avot (Mishna) 4:11, “k’nessiyahכנסיה” means “gathering – union for sacred purposes (the word means “church” in Modern Hebrew and Arabic). Indeed, it is very important to showing respect for the identity of each individual. Every person has their specificities. Subsequently,the nomad tribes settled down. They could build the Temple as “Beyt HaMikdashבית המקדש”.

Ingathering is based on soils, simple realities, body limbs as shown by comparing the various Semitic roots, which makes sens in the Mishnaic tradition: “beyt midrashבית מדרש” (house of prayer and learning), “shtub/shtib’lשטוב-שטיבל in Yiddish (a hassidic small room for prayers and teachings). Interestingly, “bayitבית” (house) seems to come from “bith, boבית- בא”: to enter, lodge in, pass the night (cf. Daniel 6:19, Tractate Sanhedrin. It also means “wife” (Yoma I,1: “(a) wife is (a) house”).

“Beyt Israelבית ישראל” is less common at the present. It underscores the physical cohesion of a community. They function like the tents that may shelter any other people. Prophet Jeremiah (39:9) spoke of the ingathering of the Children of Israel in a ”beyt HaAmבית העם” (house of the people) which strictly referred to a synagogue in Talmud Shabbat 32a. “Amעם” is connected with “imעם” (with, to link together.

Actually, the word sounds more “nationalistic” in Israel, although Prophet Isaiah’s appeal (40:1): “Nahmu, nahmu amiנחמו נחמו עמי – comfort, o comfort my people, says God” may be read “Nahmu immi” = “comfort with Me”. Prayers work as an interactive callings from God to the congregation and vice versa.

There is another way to consider “the convocation of the faithful”: “mikraמקרא” comes from “qara” (to call, convoke, read). It is another glance at the “holy convocation – mikra qodeshמקרא קודש” (Talmud Taanit IV,68a) which depicts the congregation as “reading the Scriptures, legible as the readings of the Scriptures congregates the assembly”. Arabic “Qur’an” relates to “call, reading, recitation, book”. We may not be aware that each believer is a full part of the Scriptures and becomes visible, legible in some special way.

Ancient Greek “ekklesia-εκκλησια” meant a “convocation of individuals” called to resolve some problems, usually in a legal sense. In the Greek [as Jewish] traditions, there is a very strong connection between “law and judgment” –“individual and society” – “group/team and teachings”. It did not refer to some building but to a group. Thus, it naturally passed into Early Christianity to determine the “assembly of the believers in Jesus of Nazareth”. In the Gospel, the word retained the same meaning of a widely open, universal call expressed by “kahal/knesset – קהלכנסת” that is mainly present in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the TaNaKh, realized by the 70 Jewish elders of Alexandria. The first synagogues appeared in Eretz Israel wherever a minyan (quorum of ten males) gathered for the prayer. In Greek, the word is “syn-/συν- = together; agein/αγειν = to call” and fully corresponds to “ekklesia-εκκλησια”.

In Jerusalem, the Beyt-Hamikdash or Temple (Greek “naos- ναος/ hieron-ιερον”) focused on the presence of the Shekhinahשכינה and everyone could enter, Jews and Gentiles alike, as stated: “Everyday the disciples devoted themselves to meeting together in the Temple” (Acts of the Apostles 2:46; cf. I Kings 8:29-53 and Solomon’s prayer).

After the destruction of the Mikdash or “Mishkanמשכן”(Temple or Dwelling, cf. Tractate Erubin 2a), “synagogue-συναγογε” developed along with “ecclesia-εκκλησια” (Fr. église, Sp. ingresia, It. chiesa) and became “temple” (stretched out building for worship) by 1598 in Europe. English “church” comes from Greek “Kyriakon” (of the Lord /house/κυριακον) and influenced most German and Slavic cultures (Icelandic: kirkja, Norw. kirke, Germ.: Kirche, Dutch: kerk, Russian/Ukr.: tserkov’ – tserkva/церковь – церква).

Since the destruction of the Second Temple, each festive lightning of the lamps testifies that, unexpectedly, the “House of Israel” resemble/assembles the living Temple represented by gathering in each flesh and soul. There is a famous (rather late) Jewish morning prayer recited everyday: “Modeh aniמודה אני, I gratefully thank you, o living and eternal King, for you have returned my soul within me with compassion and abundant trust”. It echoes the Divine Presence as shown in the imposing Byzantine tradition that embodies the “Church”: “Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of truth, Omnipresent and accomplishing all things, come and dwell in us, cleanse us from all our sins and save, o Good, our souls”.

הכותל המערבי בירושלים
The Western Wall, Jerusalem
טחנת-רוח לכל הרוחות
Mills in times of turmoil
ועדה בין-אורתודוכסית בפנר 2008
Inter-Orthodox Synod at the Phanar, 2008. Left to right: Patriarchs Theophilos (Jerusalem), Theodoros (Alexandria), Bartholomaios (Constantinople), Ignatius (Antioch), Aleksei (Moscow).


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