Rabbi Shull

Rabbi Ben Shull

Who can possibly forget the closing scene of the “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy “returns” to her Kansas farmhouse, sees her family and friends, and says, as only Judy Garland could, “there’s no place like home!”

That important realization, “Be it ever so humble, there is no place like home,” is central to that movie classic.

The centrality of home is also a vital part of Jewish tradition but rather than “Be it ever so humble …” Jewish tradition declares, “Be it ever so holy, there is no place like home.” Home is where all the treasures lie.

As we are all spending much more time at home together during these challenging days, it is vital to consider the place of home in our lives. Yes, home may be “where the heart is,” but home can also be “where the heartache is.” And tragically, home may be “where the loneliness is” and home may be “where the abuse is.”

In Leviticus 27:14, we read, “If anyone makes his home holy to the Lord.” The Jewish sages and rabbis understood these words to mean that the home is the starting point for holiness, the starting point for God in our lives. The home, in Rabbinic parlance, is the “mikdash me’at,” the small sanctuary. More than the synagogue or even the traditional study hall (bet midrash), the home is the place where God can be and must be found.

This is an important teaching because it is true and because it is counter-intuitive. For many of us, home, far from being a place of sanctity is a place where we can let loose, where we can be unrestrained. As Westerners we are taught, home is our castle and we are the kings and queens of our castle doing as we please. To think of our home as a place of restraint and place of dedicating ourselves to Someone higher than ourselves is foreign and odd.

“V’Eesh ki yadkish et baytoh …” and that is why the Hebrew verse states “yakdish”, to make your home holy, you, I, we have to act affirmatively, to create a holy home. There are several key steps, initial steps to making a home holy, to sensing God’s presence in our homes.

1 How we speak

How we speak to one another, with many more words of kindness than words of rebuke, with many more words of respect than words of chastisement.

2 How we listen

And listening rather than ignoring. We need more thoughtful attention and less distraction, putting down the newspaper and the smartphone, turning off the TV and putting down the video game controller. We must all work to truly be present for the other members of our household.

3 How we wake up

Our mornings must be filled with extra patience and understanding.

4 How we go to sleep.

Our nighttime must be filled with overt gratitude and appreciation.

5 How we eat

Less on the run, less in front of the boob tube and more in front of one another and more in a spirit of enjoyment, savoring the food and the company.

6 How we play

Together or separately? To win or to enjoy?

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “What do these steps have to do with finding God, they’re all about finding one another?” And yes that’s true, but I come from a tradition that holds fervently to belief that God is found in the faces of those who are closest to us. If we ignore, those nearest to us then we have obscured God as well.

The following story is told of the great Lithuanian rabbi Israel Salanter.

While on a lecture tour, the nineteenth-century Rabbi Israel Salanter accepted a man’s invitation for a Sabbath dinner. As he and his host were preparing to sit down for the meal, the man threw an angry fit at his wife for forgetting to cover the challot (loaves of Sabbath bread). Wounded by her husband’s words and ashamed in the presence of their distinguished guest, the woman ran off to the kitchen and remained there. Rabbi Salanter, shocked by the man’s behavior, leaned over and said to him, “Excuse me, but I’m getting older and my memory is weakening. Could you remind me of the reason we cover the challot until after we recite the Kiddush (the sanctification of the Sabbath wine)?”

The man, proud to be of assistance to such a prominent sage, explained the symbolism behind the custom; the challot are covered so that they are spared the “embarrassment” of being exposed while all the ritual attention is being focused on the wine ... After he finished, Rabbi Salanter rose and rebuked him: “You are so meticulous about a mere custom of not ‘embarrassing’ a loaf of bread. And yet you are so quick and ready to dishonor your wife and hurt her feelings. I cannot eat with you.” Only when the man hurried into the kitchen and pleaded with his wife to forgive him did Rabbi Salanter consent to remain.

Husbands cherishing their wives, wives loving their husbands, children respecting their fathers and revering their mothers (with Mother’s Day this Sunday), parents nurturing and teaching their children, these are all necessary elements of creating a holy home. And, of course, home is not only a structure. Home is the connections we make, especially when we are living alone, with friends and other dear ones. And thank God, we live in an age when technology enables us not only to phone home but to “zoom” home as well.

Many search far and wide to find God to find meaning to find purpose in their lives but as Dorothy reminded us, you really don’t have to look any further than your own backyard. Be it ever so holy … there is no place like home.

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