Better and Better
Parashat Re’eh 5777
When we put up our mezuzot in our new home, we said the berakhah “to affix a mezuzah,” plus the berakhah for newly acquiring a house. It was a moving moment to feel a sense of taking root in the Land of Israel.
The more common and generally familiar blessing for occasions of newness is “shehecheyanu,” thanking HaShem Who has “kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this time.” This berakhah is an expression of individual thanks. When the benefits of a significant new occasion are shared by oneself and others together, the appropriate berakhah is “Barukh Atah… Ha-Tov ve-Ha-Meitiv – Blessed are You… Who is Good and Who bestows goodness.” According to the Bei’ur Halakhah on Shulchan Arukh 223:3, when a couple or family acquires a new home together, Ha-Tov ve-Ha-Meitiv is the correct blessing to acknowledge the shared joy.
This also expresses the spirit of acquiring a home in the Land of Israel. The Torah makes it clear that this Land does not belong to us, or to any human being.
ויקרא פרק כה
(כג) והארץ לא תמכר לצמתת כי לי הארץ כי גרים ותושבים אתם עמדי:
The Land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the Land is Mine, for you are sojourners and settlers with Me.
Among the implications of our lack of exclusive ownership is the obligation to share our gifts with others, as it says in this week’s parashah:
דברים פרק יב פסוק י , יב
ועברתם את הירדן וישבתם בארץ אשר יקוק אלהיכם מנחיל אתכם והניח לכם מכל איביכם מסביב וישבתם בטח:
ושמחתם לפני יקוק אלהיכם אתם ובניכם ובנתיכם ועבדיכם ואמהתיכם והלוי אשר בשעריכם כי אין לו חלק ונחלה אתכם:
You will cross the Jordan and settle in the Land that HaShem your God has given you to inherit, and He will give you rest from all your enemies round about and you will dwell securely… And you shall rejoice before HaShem your God, you and your sons and your daughters and your servants and the Levi within your gates, for he does not have a portion or inheritance with you.
As it happens, we are Levi’im, and Tzfat is one of the towns that was traditionally dedicated to families of Kohanim and Levi’im. Our conditional dwelling in HaShem’s Land means that along with rejoicing with children and family we are to offer hospitality and support to others, especially the needy and disenfranchised, as the parashah goes on to emphasize at length. In truth, the central theme of this week’s parashah is the Torah concept of home, including the ultimate home, the place of the Mishkan, referred to frequently as:
דברים פרק יב פסוק יא
המקום אשר יבחר יקוק …בו לשכן שמו שם
The place that HaShem … shall choose to have His Name dwell there.
This is also the vision of home we find in Pirkei Avot:
משנה מסכת אבות פרק א
יוסי בן יועזר אומר יהי ביתך בית ועד לחכמים והוי מתאבק בעפר רגליהם והוי שותה בצמא את דבריהם:
[*] יוסי בן יוחנן איש ירושלים אומר יהי ביתך פתוח לרוחה ויהיו עניים בני ביתך
Yosi ben Yo’ezer says “Let your home be a house of gathering for the sages, sit in the dust at their feet and drink in their words thirstily.”
Yosi ben Yochanan, the man of Jerusalem, says “Let your home be open widely and let the poor be members of your household.”
The Torah model for hospitality is Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu. Avot de-Rabbi Natan on this Mishnah implies that their tent was open widely on all four sides (see Rabbenu Yonah on Avot 1:5). This should be understood in context of Middle Eastern etiquette in general. The Bedouin are renowned for their hospitality. A Bedouin tent is always open on one side, to the East, to welcome all travelers from the desert, who are offered coffee in an elaborate ceremony full of scripted signals conveying degrees of comfort or guardedness. For a tent door to be always open on one side to any person is very generous. When we hear that Avraham and Sarah’s tent was open on all four sides, in Middle Eastern terms that’s mind-blowing hospitality. It expresses a profound trust in HaShem to be so open and unguarded.
We are deeply grateful to have found a home in our little corner of Tzfat. May it be a joyful gathering place of wisdom and hospitality — and children — in HaShem’s Name.