Seven Ushpizin…then Shmini Atzeres

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-

 Every day [of Sukkos] they would go around the Mizbayach-altar once. But on that day [the seventh day AKA  Hoshannah Rabbah] they did so seven times.

– Tractate Sukkah 52A

 Rabi Avira extrapolated [some say that it was Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi] the Yetzer Hara– the inclination to Evil has seven names: HaShem called it “Evil”…Moshe called it “uncircumcised”…[King] david called it “impure”…[King] Shlomo called it “hater”… Yeshaya called it “obstacle”…Yechezkel called it “stone” Yoel called it “the concealed one”…

– Tractate Sukkah 43B

 The exodus from Egypt was incomplete until the parting of the Sea of Reeds seven days after the Slaying of the Firstborn and so we can easily understand why the Moed-holiday of Pesach lasts for seven days (in Israel/ on a Torah level). But whether the Sukkos that we dwell in are meant to recall actual booths or clouds of glory  it seems odd that the Moed-holiday of Sukkos should last for seven days plus an eighth day of Shmini Atzeres when the Moed of the Giving of the Torah, Shavuos, is a mere one day festival(in Israel/ on a Torah level.)

The Biskovitzer explains that each of the daily circuits (Hakafos) of the festival of Sukkos is meant to vanquish another aspect, another “name”, of the Yetzer Hara. This can be accomplished by properly welcoming the individual Ushpizin– ethereal guest for each day of the festival.  The placement of this teaching regarding the Yetzer Hara in tractate Sukkah informs us that HaShem empowered the seven Ushpizin as adversaries to the various aspects of the Yetzer Hara.  Each of the individual Ushpizin ‘s  specialized holiness undoes a different aspect of the Yetzer Hara . If an individual’s attitude is that he will not rest until that days characteristic of the Yetzer Hara is completely subdued and ameliorated, until he achieves a scintilla of Yaakov’s conquest of the angel who was not released from Yaakov’s grip until he agreed to bless him as Yisrael-the metaphysical equivalent of “crying uncle” (Bereshis 32:27), then he will have properly welcomed that days Ushpiz and will be aided by the Ushpiz in achieving his goal.

To illustrate the principle here are a few of the examples that the Biskovitzer provides:

When we say that the Yetzer Hara is uncircumcised we refer to the Yetzer Hara’s power to create barriers and blockages that obstruct the Torahs’s  message from ever entering a person’s heart. Yitzchak Avinu, the first one to be circumcised on the eighth day is the Ushpiz who negates this aspect of the Yetzer Hara.

When we say that the Yetzer Hara is an obstacle or a stumbling block we refer to the Yetzer Hara’s power to use smoke and mirrors to deceive people and trip them up on dangers unknown to them until after it is too late. Yaakov Avinu, the one who prevented the greatest of all cosmic errors, the near miss of Yitzchok conferring the blessings on Esav, is the Ushpiz who negates this aspect of the Yetzer Hara. Far from deceiving his father, it was Yaakov who saved his literally and figuratively blind father from falling into a trap that he was incapable of seeing himself. Long before it became one of the 613 Mitzvahs Yaakov fulfilled the pasuk of “You shall not set stumbling blocks before the blind” (V’Yikra 19:14)

When we say that the Yetzer Hara is a stone we refer to the Yetzer Hara’s being the irresistible force and the immovable object simultaneously.  There are times when we “hear” the Torahs message, truly want to do and be good and know full well that what we are doing is wrong but the Yetzer Hara is just too heavy and forceful to resist or turn aside and we in turn are too weighed down to flee. There was never anyone so oppressed by a dense, weighty temptation as Yoseph HaTzadik. The Yalkut Shimoni relates that his temptress, Potiphar’s wife even had him fitted with a weighted steel choker to try to get him to lower his head and eyes to compel him to gaze at her. Yet Yoseph HaTzadik resisted the irresistible temptation, rolled aside the immovable stone that would have immobilized a lesser man and “fled and got outdoors” (Bereshis 39:12-13).

Vanquishing the Yetzer Hara allows room, to draw HaShem K’vyachol-so to speak from His heavenly abode so that his Divine Indwelling inhabits the lower spheres of our material world. These seven days, seven circuits, seven Ushpizin and seven aspects are all preparatory to Shmini Atzeres, a day that alludes to the ultimate unity of HaShem and Israel and the utter eradication of the Yetzer Hara. This world is of seven days-six days of creation and the seventh day, Shabbos, that completes, complements, blesses and fulfills all the others. Anything characterized by eight is otherworldly. Shmini Atzeres is the sneak preview, the trailers of the time about which the Torah declares: “Hashem alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with Him.” (Devarim 32:12)

 Adapted from Neos Deshe;  Hoshana Rabbah D”H B’chol and Shmini Atzeres D’H Chag. (pages 168-170, 210-212 in new edition)