Parshas Terumah (5772)
The Jewish Home. The key to the continuity of the Jewish people. The place in which all the Jewish traditions, customs, values and ethics are passed down from one generation to the next.
Everyone knows just how important it is for all of us to have a “Jewish home” - probably as, if not more, important than it is to maintain a Synagogue. But how exactly does one make a "Jewish home"? Do you paint Stars of David all over the walls of the house? Or maybe it requires stocking the refrigerator with whitefish salad and corned beef? You definitely can't circumcise the house. What are you going to do ... cut the lawn every eight days?!! So just how do you make a home "Jewish"?
We can gain some insight into the essence of a Jewish home from this week's Torah portion, Parshas Terumah, where we find the beginnings of that famous Jewish tradition ... the fundraising drive. The Jewish people were commanded by G-d to build for Him a Mishkan, or Tabernacle ... the very first Building Campaign!
I can only imagine that first meeting that took place at the offices of the Jewish Federation of the Greater Sinai Desert. One of the more well-to-do board members addresses the meeting: "Gentleman, I am willing to put up two million dollars to cover the costs of the Tabernacle. But only on one condition … I would like it to be called the Sophie and Mel Bernstein Main Sanctuary, to honor the memory of my dear parents!"
All kidding aside ... the commentaries point out that there were really two fundraising drives going on simultaneously - one for the building itself and all its furniture, the Ark, the Table of the Showbread, the Menorah Lamp, etc., and another for the various sacrifices and prayer books and other religious articles that were to be used in the Tabernacle on a daily basis.
Well, what happened was that the Building Campaign was very successful - Jews were donating more money than was even needed! The drive for the religious articles, however, was not as successful. Instead of people voluntarily bringing in money according to their ability to give, it was decided that each member of the Jewish people make a required donation of a half shekel per person. This way, they would ensure that all the necessary sacrifices and prayer books could be purchased.
The fact that one drive was more successful than the other is very telling, and reflects basic human nature. When it comes to the building of a Tabernacle or a Synagogue, Jews are always willing to donate tremendous amounts of money for the cause. Just look at all the magnificent structures out there on the North American Jewish landscape. But the building is, after all, just a shell. What gives that building life and vitality is the religious activity that takes place inside it - the transmitting of our Jewish values, our common heritage. And that's a concept that's not as easy to sell to people.
Today we no longer have a Tabernacle. But there always was, and always will be, the Jewish home. We might spend a lot of money on the outside of the house and on the furniture - the hardwood floors, the Persian rugs, the Jacuzzi in the master bath, and we might even stock the pantry with Manischevitz Matzah Ball Mix - but what makes the home alive and thriving in a Jewish sense, is the sense of Jewish values that permeates the inside of the house. And that takes a lot more effort and thought.
What kinds of things do we place on our mantles? In other words, what are we really proud of in our homes? Do we proudly display a Chumash/Bible or other Jewish books or religious articles? Or do we instead have some statue of an Aztec warrior with a nose-ring? What kind of conversations do we have (in front of our children who are taking it all in) at the Friday Night Shabbat dinner? Do we even have a Friday Night Shabbat dinner? Do we discuss the Torah portion and its many relevant ideas that we can use to enhance our lives? [Today, it's easy to discuss Torah at your table - just look up any Jewish web site, and print out any of hundreds of Torah thoughts on any conceivable topic out there!] Do we show interest in the Torah knowledge and Jewish values that our kids are studying in school?
Do we realize what kind of impact seemingly trivial things like discussing Torah at the table with our kids, or displaying Jewishly significant items on our mantles can have on our children? We send them a message that we are proud of who we are as Jews, and that we have values which mean enough to us to discuss around the dinner table.
And it's never too early to start conveying this powerful message to our kids. As Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky points out in a brilliant essay in the book Jewish Matters, even as a baby, the environment that surrounds the infant will teach him things about what is important in life. Is his room decorated with Jewish pictures like the Modeh Ani prayer (the prayer of thanks to G-d that we say when we wake up each morning alive and healthy)? Or maybe with plush letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, like they sell at some Jewish bookstores? Or will he grow up believing that the most important thing in life is a purple dinosaur? Or a six-foot mouse? Or a frog with a banjo who dates a pig? And if so, doesn't that continue into life, being replaced by the latest media star? Barney turns into Michael Jordan who turns into Robbie Williams who turns into Donald Trump.
The things we use to decorate our children's rooms – and, for that matter, our entire homes - impress our children with what we value. And to the extent that we breathe Jewish life and values into our homes – making them true “Jewish homes” - we and our children will be way ahead of the game.