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Bad ideas don't have to be done poorly
There’s a scene in The Fountainhead where Peter Keating comes to Howard Roark for help designing a building for a contest. Roark, for those of you who haven't read the book, despises the copying of old styles into new materials, feeling that new materials call for new styles; not just copies of old ones.
“Oh, to hell with your elevation! I don’t want to look at your damn Renaissance elevations!” But he looked. He could not prevent his hand from cutting lines across the perspective. “All right, damn you, give them good Renaissance if you must and if there is such a thing! Only I can't do that for you. Figure it out yourself. Something like this. Simpler, Peter, simpler, more direct, as honest as you can make of a dishonest thing. Now go home and try to work out something on this order.”
That’s how I feel when I see posters of Ushpizot. It is such a pathetic thing, really, to see people whining like kindergartners, “But it isn't fair that all the Ushpizin are men! Wah! We want women Ushpizin. We want Ushpizot.” Pathetic, and more than a little sad.
For those of you who have no clue what the Ushpizin are in the first place, here’s the basic idea. Sukkot lasts 7 days. Outside of Israel, it lasts 8 days, but that’s a temporary historical hiccup. And then there’s Shmini Atzeret, which is the day after Sukkot, so that it feels like 8 days in Israel and 9 days elsewhere. But the holiday itself is 7 days.
There is a custom, based in Kabbalistic writings, of associating each day of Sukkot with a biblical personage who represents one of the bottom seven Sephirot, or channels through which we experience God.
Abraham represents Hesed, which is the quality of going above and beyond — stepping up to do more than is required.
Isaac represents Gevurah, which is the quality of restraint and self-control — inward directedness.
Jacob represents Tiferet, which is the balance between Hesed and Gevurah, signifying measured action and harmony.
Moses represents Netzah, which is dominance, or the imposition of one's will on others.
Aaron represents Hod, which is the quality of submission to the will or needs of others — placing the good of others above one's own.
Joseph represents Yesod, which is the balance between Netzah and Hod, signifying compromise and accomodating others without sacrificing one’s self
David represents Malchut, which is the quality of leadership by example — also a balance between Netzah and Hod, but one which embraces both of them fully, rather than compromising between them.
I’ve seen a couple of lists of Ushpizot. One of them runs Sarah — Miriam — Deborah — Hannah — Abigail — Hulda — Esther. This list follows a list in the Talmud of seven prophetesses listed in the Bible (Megillah 14a-14b). One of them runs Sarah — Rebecca — Rachel — Leah — Miriam — Deborah — Esther. This seems to be based on nothing other than those being the most prominent women in the Bible in the eyes of whoever came up with the list. I’ve seen this same list in a different order: Sarah — Deborah — Rebecca — Miriam — Leah — Rachel — Esther. Though I've never seen any rationale given for it. And one contains Leah, Esther, Jochebed, Rachel, Rebecca, Ruth, and Tamar, though I can't tell what order they're supposed to be in, or why.
As I said, I find the whole idea that women can’t find spirituality without copying men to be very insulting, and the whole idea of Ushpizot seems childish and petty. But being told that it's an infantile idea isn't going to stop people from insisting on having Ushpizot, so to paraphrase Roark, if you must have Ushpizot, let it at least be done properly, if there is such a thing.
Ruth represents Hesed. More than any other woman in the Bible, Hesed is displayed by Ruth. She leaves Moab, where — at least Midrashically — she is a king’s daughter, and follows her poor mother-in-law back to a foreign land. She goes above and beyond anything she could ever have been expected to do.
Rachel represents Gevurah. The Midrash tells us that she stood back and allowed her sister Leah to marry Jacob. That although she and Jacob had agreed on a code word to ensure that Jacob would be marrying the right sister, Rachel gave Leah that code word, rather than embarrass her.
Miriam represents Tiferet. Miriam goes out before the Daughters of Israel, singing praises. But at the same time, she stands back and watches as her baby brother Moses is sent down the Nile. She represents the ability to balance the ideals of restraint and exuberance.
Sarah represents Netzah. It is Sarah, more than any other woman in the Bible, who imposes her will on others. Sarah tells Abraham to get a child with Hagar. Sarah tells Abraham to send Hagar away. And even God tells Abraham to do what Sarah says. The Sages say that Sarah was an even greater prophet than Abraham.
Hannah represents Hod. Hannah accepts the dominance of her sister-wife Peninah, and wants only to have a child for her husband. When she prays to God for a son, she offers him as a life-long servant of God, and when the time comes, she gives Samuel over without complaint. Hannah demonstrates the ability to submit to the needs and will of others.
Esther, of course, represents Yesod. The parallels between Joseph and Esther are many and varied. The book Links Beyond Time, by Yoel T. Cahn (now unfortunately out of print) is all about these parallels.
Deborah represents Malchut, the kind of leadership that comes from the people and is of the people.
So please. I don’t in any way endorse the idea of Ushpizot. It pains me that anyone does. But please, if you must have them, have them right.
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