According to Kaballah, our forefathers come to visit with us at the sukkah. Each night of the festival, one great man leads the other “Ushpizin” (Aramaic for “guests”) as they enter our sukkah and grace us with their presence. Naturally, traditionally the Ushpizin are men, but this has been changing, as people introduced the custom of bringing in the Biblical mothers as well. Today, many of my friends in Israel and abroad, symbolically invite a woman they admire- a family member that is no longer with them, or a historical figure.
Too often, accomplished women don’t get the kind of respect they deserve. We see this regularly on academic panels, in conferences, and in TV interviews. In so many ways, women are still invisible, despite our achievements. It is up to us to give the women we admire the stage, to put them in the limelight in hope that one day it will be natural and obvious.
This Sukkot, one of my “Ushpizin” will be Noah, one of the daughters of Zelophehad to my sukkah. In the book of Numbers we are introduced to Noah and her four sisters who remain penniless following their father’s death, shortly before the Israelites arrive in Canaan. Since Zelophehad had no sons, and only sons could inherit, the daughters are left with nothing. Noah speaks up, taking the case before Moses and other leaders of the community. She and her sisters argue that their father’s name and lineage shouldn’t be cut off just because he had no sons, and they should be permitted to inherit his land portion of the Promised Land Noah and her sisters succeed in inheriting their father. In standing up for her rights, Noah changed her own situation, but also created a precedent for many others.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit down with a powerful woman and get her perspective, her views and experiences? Who would you invite as an “Ushpiza”? Is it a great-grandmother you’ve never met? A dear aunt you miss terribly? Perhaps a famous poet or a scientist? Maybe your “Ushpiza” made history like Queen Elizabeth I, for being an unexpected great leader of her nation. Maybe she’s unknown, but contributes to society by various acts of kindness.
Whoever your Ushpiza is, please “invite” her to your Sukkah. By making these women virtual guests and discussing them, we acknowledge them and their achievements. We give them a place at the table and honor their struggles and triumphs.