Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Celebrating Judaism at Home

 At a time when we are all homebound, the yearning to go to synagogue becomes stronger. We miss seeing people. We miss praying together as a congregation. We miss the camaraderie.  We simply miss congregating.  However, we can also ask ourselves: Isn’t being “cut off” from the world a holy and spiritual endeavor that we should all aspire to?  


On a recent Backstage production, they were talking about utilizing this time of quarantine to slow down and so on, when someone said, yes, that’s called Shabbos!  


Yes, we have Shabbos, and we certainly have the most holy of all days of the year, Yom Kippur, when we go to synagogue for much of the day, we fast, pray and feel inspired. Back in the days of the Holy Temple, the High Priest would prepare for this day for a week in advance, separating from his family while he lived on the Temple grounds.  


Today, I would like to take a lesson, not from Yom Kippur itself, but from the end of the holiday, when the High Priest would finally return home. The custom was for the Jewish community to follow him home and the High Priest and his family would host a huge party for everyone!  


The purpose of Yom Kippur is to forgive all of us for the sins we committed during the year. However, the High Priest is not meant to be separated from the community and seen as “higher” than everyone else, but rather to be one of us, one who feels the pain and suffering of each and every member of the Jewish people.  


That is why first and foremost he prays for himself and his immediate family, to show that he is relevant, a real down-to-earth person; then and only then does he pray for the rest of the Jewish community.   


After Yom Kippur is over, when the first thing he does is go home, to his lovely family, he teaches us that as holy as Yom Kippur is, and as holy as the Holy Temple is, Judaism is meant to be celebrated in the home.


Today, we are celebrating Judaism in our home, not necessarily because we want to, but because we must. Let’s embrace it, as this is the highest level of serving G-d! 


Finding the Hidden Treasures

There are times when we feel that the laws of the Torah may be too stringent. One such example is in this week’s Torah portion when we are given the laws of the Metzorah. Here are the details in short: 


Let’s say someone is inflicted with tzara’at (for lack of an exact English translation, some form of leprosy), and it spreads from a person to their clothes and finally to the walls of their home (like mold). The treatment to rid the home of this tzara’at is to destroy the home!   


Don’t worry, though: The famous commentator Rashi quoting from the Midrash, tells us the Emorites hid many valuables in their walls when they heard that the Jews would be making their way toward Israel. Eventually, when a Jewish house – which once was an Emorite home – would be destroyed because of the tzara’at, they would find these valuables. So, although it looks like a punishment, there is a hidden treasure within the punishment.      


It is interesting to point out that although Rashi is quoting the Midrash, he changes the words of the Midrash and instead of writing the “Canaanites” (the general term that describes all the nations that lived in Israel at the time), he mentions one specific tribe that lived in one area, the “Emorites.” From this we learn that there is a lesson to be learned.  


Emor means “to say.” There are hidden messages in the words that we say. When they are bad words, they can cause damage, to the extent that we can be punished with tzara’at; but even within this “punishment” we can reveal a reward, something even greater—we can find an inner treasure. All we must do is look. Sometimes we place them there ourselves, and sometimes they are placed there by others.  


Being home for the foreseeable future, we are doing some cleaning and we are finding some treasures of our own. This has encouraged some great conversation. Look around your own home and see if you can find a treasure of your own. The trick is to keep all the words that we say to be positive, as our words reveal the hidden “I”.  


Shabbat Shalom. 

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