House and Home

Tazria Metzora - House and Home

We love our synagogue being full on Shabbat. On occasions such as these.

We love the life cycle events that take place here and bring so much pride; b’nei mitzvah, chuppot, baby blessings. The learning and animated conversations. The kiddushim and the good work that sometimes gets done here within this sanctuary.

But it is likely something else that has maintained Judaism and Jewish people.

In 1990, eight Jewish leaders were invited to Dharamsala, India, to meet with the Dalai Lama, the political and spiritual leader of Tibet. The Tibetans had lost their land to China, their religious leader was in exile, and now they feared they would lose their identity as a people. Conscious of the parallels to Jewish history, the Dalai Lama had asked the Jews for help: “Tell me the secret of Jewish spiritual survival in exile.” The secret revealed to the Dalai Lama was the Jewish home.

In Judaism, God is found at home, encountered in family, celebrated at the kitchen table. Jewish spirituality is deeply embedded in family life. Jewish religious life is woven into the rhythms of the year and into the cycle of life through symbols and rituals practiced in the home. In Deuteronomy, just as we are commanded to love God with heart, soul and might, we are commanded to “teach these words diligently to your children, when you get up and walk out and lie down at night…in short in your house.” Spirituality, and the home are inseparable.

Homes are important. Where there is no synagogue, no school the Jewish can always exist.

Has the home restored and maintained Judaism?

Has it saved and sustained families too?

In our busy lives has the home become ever more important to us. More precious and needed?

During the last government I remember reading about several MPs praising the notion of rustic Sunday –when you stayed home and switched off … in all other other ways, wrote Jonathan Freedland , a Jewish home Shabbat experience. It is a powerful force for good.

The leprosy that Ned read about and commented upon so eloquently gives us pause for thought but perhaps less because of the red and green coloured streaks on the walls but, because IT REMINDS US OF the centrality of the home and what it means for us now all those years after the words of Torah.  

Our Rabbis stated in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 71a): “The house affected by the plague never existed and is not destined to exist. It was stated for the purpose of edification.” Meaning this strange description was always meant to be a lesson and today it is about the HOME.

Maimonides in Mishneh Torah agrees with how to read this outlandish description, The changes from the normal appearance has no parallel in nature but constitutes a sign and wonder that existed in Israel in order to warn them away from evil talk. He who indulges in evil talk finds that the walls of his house change color (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, N’gaim 12:5).

Deuteronomy insists we think carefully about the safety of our homes.

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it (Deut 22:8).

Basically how we behave in our homes, what we try to make of them is what counts.

Jewish tradition has named it Mikdash Me’at. Not just because the Friday night table with white cloth and salt next to the bread echoes the altar but because it is a place of quiet (sometime) and calm.

Most of us would celebrate the home.

I noted this past year that Temple MICAH in Washington DC –a hugely political and thoughtful synagogue describes itself as a messy place with a heart. Emma loved that description and suggested it described the Colbey/Prinsley home in Wood Vale.

The Colbey /Prinsley home in Wood Vale is the first I visited as rabbi to FPS and so will always hold a special place in my heart. Emma uses her home to cook for others, something she does with enthusiasm and alacrity when called upon. Emma has brought that to all encounters here at FPS.

We all want to suffuse our dwelling with warmth and feeling.

Elizabeth Ehrlich reminisces about her grandmother’s kitchen:

“ my grandmother’s blue-and-white tiled Brooklyn kitchen, in which so much life had been lived, was her truest sphere. There she chopped, grated, salted, peppered. There she handed on traditions brought from the Old World and translated amidst the exigencies of the New. Much of my valuable learning took place in that kitchen and in other rooms like it….[These memories] came back to me when I became a mother. I wondered what to teach my children. I wanted to build a floor under my children, something strong and solid.”

So many of us trace our memories and our motivation stem from moments at home. [I visited Emma’s parents’ home in Melbourne was cooked for and even hung out in the kitchen doing the washing up. And in so doing understood the Prinsely family better.]

Ned’s Jewish memories are surely more rooted, I dare say, in roast chicken at home on Friday night than learning in his synagogue.

But the two are linked.

Achad Ha’Am, the pen name of Asher Ginsberg (father of spiritual Zionism ) wrote more than the Jews have get kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews. The same could be said of the home. More than we have kept home, the home has kept us. It has sustained, maintained and kept us, linked us back to generations and offers future memories for those that come ahead of us.

A blessing to the home and to generations ahead.

Rabbi Rebecca, April 2017