The Baal Shem Tov, or Besht —  the founder of Chasidism — 
met the soul of the Messiah during an ascent to heaven. 
The Besht asked him, "When will the Master come?" 
The Messiah answered, "When your wellsprings break forth to the outside!" 
(from a letter written by the Besht to his brother-in-law about one of his soul ascents) 


 
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Ushpizin: Inviting the Mothers Imahot to the Sukkah

Here's the basic order, which is explained below: Ruth, Sarah, Rivkah, Miriam, Devorah, Tamar, Rachel, plus Leah as Binah. For Reb Zalman's order, click here. The liturgy includes Kabbalistic invocations, Sefirot, and prayers for peace, all based on traditional Sefardic nusach. Click here to download the 2-page pdf with the full service, or click here to read just the English.
Where are the mothers on Sukkot? Why don't we traditionally invite them into the sukkah the way we do the fathers? These are not just rhetorical questions, and the answer isn't just "patriarchy". The point of this page is to provide some liturgy for inviting the mothers, but also to understand the traditional prayers, so that the new liturgy is a direct extension of what came before.


First and foremost, the seder of the ushpizin or guests—the seven Avot or ancestors we invite during the seven nights of Sukkot—is a Kabbalistic custom. Each of the ancestors represents one of the seven lower Sefirot. The same Sefirot correspond to the seven days in each week and seven weeks of the Omer. The traditional lineup, as most (but not all) visiting this page will know, is:

  • Abraham, Chesed ~ Lovingkindness
  • Isaac, Gevurah ~ Might, Judgment
  • Jacob, Tiferet ~ Beauty, Harmony
  • Moshe, Netzach ~ Triumph, Eternity
  • Aaron, Hod ~ Majesty
  • Yosef, Yesod ~ Foundation
  • David, Malkhut ~ Kingship, Kingdom
It's important (to the degree that things like this can be important) that the order is not historically chronological but spiritual, reflecting the unfolding of divinity in creation, as Kabbalah understands it. Any Ashkenazi liturgy that orders the ushpizin chronologically, putting Yosef before Moshe, is not traditional, even if it is found in a Rinat Yisrael siddur.

For the fathers, these correspondences are very strongly established in the Zohar and other Kabbalistic literature, and there are no well-grounded alternative orders. For the mothers, however, the correspondences with the lower Sefirot are much less stable, with the major exception of Rachel Imeinu, who is always Malkhut. To the extent that other female figures are mentioned in Kabbalah, they most often also symbolize Malkhut. For example, in Gikatilla in Sha'arey Orah writes, "In Abraham's time Malkhut was called Sarah; in Isaac's time Malkhut was called Rivkah, and in Jacob's time Malkhut was called Rachel."

There are only two strong correspondences between any mother and a particular sefirah besides Malkhut-Rachel. They are between Tamar and Yesod, and between Leah and Binah. Furthermore, because Binah is above Chesed, and not one of the lower seven Sefirot, it doesn't get its own day of Sukkot. That means that any liturgy for the Imahot, if it's going to be based on the Kabbalah, can't include Leah as one of the seven ushpizin (or, in the feminine, ushpizata).

As an aside, the Kabbalistic significance of Leah being Binah and Rachel being Malkhut is that Binah and Malkhut are the upper and lower mother (imma ila'ah and imma tata'ah), or (alternatively), the upper and lower feminine, or mother and daughter. The reason why Jacob has to marry both Leah and Rachel because he is the symbol of Tif'eret, the lower masculine, which stands between Binah and Malkhut and connects them. Tif'eret-Jacob must be in conjunction with both Binah and Malkhut in order for the chain of emanation (seder hishtalsh'lut) to be unbroken and for the world to be sustained.

The whole point of the liturgy of Ushpizin in fact is to invoke the energies of the seven lower Sefirot in the proper order, so that Shefa, blessing and sustenance, can be drawn down into the world. This is the essence of Kabbalistic liturgy, and a liturgy of the imahot would only make sense if it were to follow that pattern. That means we have the playfully serious task of finding a stable order for the imahot where no clear order exists. There are a number of proposals out there for how to do this. The liturgy I am sharing here uses only the most traditional texts (1) to establish the "right" order, and you can also find below Reb Zalman's order and the order for the seven "prophetesses" from Azariah deFano.

So, here is our list of correspondences between the mothers and the seven lower Sefirot:

  • Ruth, Chesed (Love) – pure kindness and trust, devoting herself entirely to being God's instrument and Naomi's support, the one who chooses to be Jewish (to speak anachronistically) without any advantage or self-interest, motivated strictly from within herself, like Abraham

  • Sarah, Gevurah (Judgment) – the one who demands that Hagar be thrown into the wilderness, judgment that overcomes mercy, she is even called g'virati by Hagar

  • Rivkah, Tiferet (Beauty, Balance) – she is the wily one, like Jacob, who knows how things must turn out, who can create the reality that needs to exist, and who can draw on mercy or harshness as needed to accomplish her purpose

  • Miriam, Netzach (Victory, Eternity) – prophet, bearer and bringer of water (the right side), Moshe's sister, the one who knows how to celebrate victory over Pharoah's army

  • Devorah, Hod (Majesty) – warrior and prophet, the greatest female ruler in Israel.

  • Netzach and Hod are called Einei Hashem, "the eyes of God", and represent the power of prophecy, so Miriam and Devorah as prophets fit here pretty clearly, but the distinctions between Netzach and Hod in Kabbalah are pretty nebulous, so the order between them is tentative. The connection between Miriam and Moshe makes Miriam fit with Netzach well, but one could also argue for Devorah as Netzach, the victorious one.

  • Tamar, Yesod (Foundation) – the one who sits at the crossroads of Einei Hashem (i.e. between Netzach and Hod), who embodies the fullness of sexuality (as does Yesod), who joins with Judah (who represents Malkhut – this reverses the masculine and feminine assignments of these Sefirot), who is tzadkah, the righteous one, just as Yosef is tzadik.

  • Rachel, Malkhut (Kingdom) – the Shekhinah who goes into exile with her children and pleads for their return.
How do we fit Leah in? It turns out that the Sefardi nusach includes a reference to Binah (Understanding), so all that we need to do is to add Leah's name when Binah is invoked. You'll see this in the pdf you can download, which uses other parts of the same liturgy to fill out the seder ushpizin liturgy.

One thing you may have already considered is that it's not clear which of the other women besides the four matriarchs (2) should be included. Dinah, Hannah, Hulda, Esther and many others come to mind besides the ones we've already mentioned. Because allusions to the other foremothers, besides Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, are so infrequent as compared to the forefathers, it's hard to know which allusion is the most important, both with respect to which figure to use and with respect to which Sefirah she should represent.

There is one clear text that assigns a Sefirah to each of the "seven prophetesses" which is quite different than the above order. Menachem Azariah deFano (3) gives this order in his work Asarah Ma'amarot: Sarah, Chesed; Miriam, Gevurah; Devorah, Tif'eret; Hannah, Netzach; Avigail, Hod; Hulda, Yesod; Esther, Malkhut. This order doesn't feel to me like the one we should base ushpizin on however: only one of the matriarchs is represented, and the three very strong correspondences between the Sefirot with Leah, Rachel and Tamar are left out. We might make a distinction for this question between the seven n'viot prophetesses, and the seven mothers.

Reb Zalman's order is also quite different, with Sarah at Hod! The rest are: Miriam, Chesed; Leah, Gevurah; Hannah, Tif'eret; Rivkah, Netzach; Tamar, Yesod; Esther and Ruth, Malkhut. (4) (Download Reb Zalman's explanation below.) You can also find other liturgies, sukkah posters, etc. that add the imahot to the Ushpizin in different ways on Ritualwell. It would be easy to plug deFano's order or Reb Zalman's order (or any other order you're attached to) into the liturgy I've created, with the simple proviso that if Leah is included in the lower seven, one would leave out the mention of her name where it's used as an epithet for imma ila'ah near the beginning. (This line is the one that immediately precedes the invitation, Ulu, ulu.)

In all cases, making space for a liturgy that includes the imahot, especially where there is absolutely no halakhic rule about something needing to be said, seems not only good but imperative. May this action add to our "building the stature of the Shekhinah" (5) to bring redemption nearer.

Download the pdf! (Clear your cache or open in a new window if you ever downloaded an earlier version and want the final version.)
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Notes:

(1)
The most helpful source in doing this was not a particular book but an index of Kabbalistic literature called Torat Natan.

(2) This ignores the question of Bilhah and Zilpah, the handmaids of Leah and Rachel who also bore Jacob's sons, and who are included in a discussion of the "six imahot" in one of the early midrashim.

(3) Thanks to Aryeh Cohen of the SFKAUJ (AJU) for bringing my attention to deFano, which he learned about from Shaul Magid. Aryeh also spent time on the phone holding my hand through the Aramaic conjugations and declensions.

(4) You can read a 2-page pdf in Hebrew of Reb Zalman's explanations for these correspondences, provided by R. Ruth Kagan from the Hebrew volume of Reb Zalman's thought, Kirvat Elohim:Tikkun Olam v'Tikkun Halev (Jewish Renewal—Integrating Heart and World), which she edited. Click here to download.

(5) The phrase comes from the Or Hameir, Zev Wolf of Zhitomir, who calls on us to build up the Shekhinah to be equal, ayin b'ayin "eye-to-eye" with the Holy One. For him this is the essential task of the exile. Read his words here.


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Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006