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Q&A : The Jewish Home – May 2010 – “Jewish Life” magazine

What is special about a Jewish home?

The Jewish home is one of the main places where we serve Hashem. In fact, it is possibly the single most important place to serve Hashem. One of the most important places we live as Jews is in the home. It is where we build the Jewish future.

What does this mean?

A home is where Jewish families are created and nurtured, and family is the key to the future. The Talmud famously says that when G-d came to Moshe and said ‘give me a guarantee for the Jewish future’, Moshe put forward many different answers. The forefathers, the prophets, the sages. But G-d rejected all of them until Moshe eventually answered that the children are the guarantee of the future. And our children become who they are in the environment of the home.

What else depends on the home?

There are so many mitzvot that focus on the home – kashrus, Shabbos, family purity, marriage – all are expressed mainly in the home. And they actually create the atmosphere of the home.

Why is the atmosphere of a home important?

A home is the place we can express who we are. The place where we have the safety to be ourselves. And that is where the big challenge lies.

What is that challenge?

There should be a consistency with the person we are out in the world and who we are in the privacy of our home. Who we are in the confines of the home is who we really are. Not the face we portray to the world.

Is this why shalom bayis, to have peace in the home, is so important?

Until now, we have spoken about the actual mitzvot that are fulfilled in the home. But there is something which is, in a sense, broader and more all-encompassing, and that is the spirit of the home, where shalom bayis comes in. On the one hand, it is intangible, and on the other hand, all pervasive.

What creates the atmosphere in the home?

It is all encompassing, created by the mitzvot that we do in the home, and by the possessions we have in the home and the priorities we set.

What should our priorities be?

Many things. A Jewish home needs Torah books, it needs Torah learning. It needs shalom bayis. The way that we speak enhances the spirit of the home, the gentleness we show each other, the chesed that we do. And chesed is about reaching out to others too, hachnasat orchim. This has a big impact on children.

How so?

Children learn much less from what we say than they do from what we do. Whatever one grows up with in the home is what one will consider normal and natural in their lives. So the home environment creates the standards of the norms within your world. The home is the world that you create.

So how do we reconcile this with the broader global issues of materialism and poverty. It takes money to perform these mitzvot… and so many people out there are struggling…

This is a very important principle in the Halacha, which goes out of its way to help people who are in financial need. The Talmud says the Torah has compassion on the property of the Jewish people. This is brought into practice where situations of special leniencies are offered where there is financial loss involved. The Torah gives us all, no matter our level of wealth, the opportunity to access a magnificent heritage that brings malchus, majesty and royalty, to our lives. One shouldn’t look at the mitzvot as a drain but rather an opportunity for upliftment, especially in tough financial circumstances. But it does take money to fulfil many of the mitzvot, and we have to work together as a community on that. That is why I take so seriously the enquiry into kosher meat prices currently underway.

This is a controversial issue right now – what is the progress report?

I know that people are feeling impatient that results haven’t come yet. But I can assure everyone, from my personal involvement that it is precisely because we at the UOS  are taking it so seriously that it is taking so long. There are many complex factors to be investigated, and when findings are presented by the experts, more questions are asked and then they have to go back to re-look at aspects of it. But Kashrus is vital to the Jewish home, and we are looking to find a way to make it more affordable.

What about the flip side – those with a wealth of resources. How do we keep mind that there are so many who don’t have as much?

We have to ask ourselves – what is the most important thing in life? Is it the material things we fill our lives with, or is it Hashem and doing good in the world? This begs a more fundamental question, which the Dubno Maggid, a disciple of the Vilna Gaon, explores – Who  is in charge, the body, or the soul? The answer forms ones identity. If you are a neshoma with a body, then the physical is part of something higher. If you are primarily a body, then the neshoma is subservient to that. To be a human being there are both physical and spiritual elements, but the crucial question is, what is your fundamental identity?

How de we ensure the right answer?

There is a continuum at play, and that is part of life’s struggle. But we need to ensure that everything physical is part of a broader spiritual framework.

How?

Through mitzvot, particularly learning Torah, which changes the way we look at the world. And it is beneficial to do these within the home.

What can the average person do in his home, practically?

The Dubno Maggid says that the atmosphere of everything that you do depends on the way you start and finish it. Focus on that. Your day can start with davening and learning Torah, and end with it too. Then that effects the day as a whole. He compares it to a door, which only needs two hinges to work properly. But if one of those hinges is missing, the door will collapse. So too with your day, which hinges on how you start and finish it. This applies to other things like marriage, in which it is also important how we start and finish the day.

Posted on 16 May 2010 in Text, Your Q&A