Parshat Tazria-Metzora: Turning A House into a Jewish Home
Just the other day, a contractor friend of mine was telling me how lumber prices and other construction costs are going through the roof. It seems that being forced to spend much of the past year sequestered in our houses has led many to better appreciate “Home! Sweet home!,” thereby inspiring a glut of home improvement projects. Home improvement happens to be a favored Jewish practice, and one of the themes of this week’s double Torah portion.
In the second portion, parshat Metzora, the Torah describes a situation in which a house gets sick: “When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess…” (Lev 14:34). Our Sages in the Talmud (Arachin 16a) teach us that a house gets sick when it stops being a Jewish home. To maintain the health and wellbeing of a house, we must turn our house into a Jewish home. But what exactly is the architecture of a Jewish home? How do we structure the spaces and organize the flow of our habitation to orient and nurture our family’s Jewish values and identity? I would suggest that we look to three categories of form and function.
Jewish Symbols: A mezuzah on our doorways; proudly displaying Judaica, like Shabbat candlesticks, kiddush cups, havdalah set, seder plate, shofar, etc.; featuring wall artwork with Jewish themes or images of Israel; a tzedakah box and siddur in our children’s room; building a foundational library of Jewish books.
Jewish Time: Finding family-friendly ways to celebrate Shabbat and other Jewish holidays within our homes, like lighting Shabbat candles and sharing Shabbat and Yom Tov family dinners together with songs and words of Torah. Morning and bedtime rituals including Jewish story-telling and singing the Shema. Putting coins in the family tzedakah box at regular intervals and fixed times.
Jewish Space: When Covid-safe, inviting family and friends into our homes to share Jewish rituals, observances, and especially Shabbat and holiday meals. Using Hebrew and Jewish words for items, foods, and activities in our homes. Hosting an evening of Torah learning or a parlor meeting for a Jewish and/or social justice organization.
Jewish symbols, time flow, and space usage do indeed create a home environment of Jewish form and flow. Jewish home improvement is interior decorating for our family’s inner spiritual world, moral universe, and Jewish identity. We best educate our children by turning our houses into Jewish homes. Indeed, the past pandemic year has made us better appreciate our houses and be more aware of health and wellness. Per the parashah, let us also work to improve the health of our houses by turning them into Jewish homes.
Benjamin J. Samuels has been the rabbi of Cong. Shaarei Tefillah, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Newton Centre, since 1995, and teaches widely in the Greater Boston Community.