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Home Depot or House Depot?

on Wednesday, September 18 2013. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

House & Home – what is the difference between the two? We say home sick and not house sick, but we say house sitting not home sitting. We say hometown and not house town, but we say house rich and not home rich. We say home field not house field, yet we say house coat not home coat. So, what exactly is the difference between a house and a home?

The Torah links our sitting in sukkos with remembering, knowing and identifying with specific aspects of life in the desert on our way from Egypt to Israel. Rabbi Akiva maintains that the verse obligating us to sit in sukkos refers to sukkos mamesh, obligating us to reenact the actual huts in which we dwelled during those years of travel.

The Malbim, Aruch Hashulchan and a host of other commentators are all bothered by the same question. Who cares that we lived in huts during that time? Why do we choose that of all things to remember and commemorate? The Jewish People also all wore sandals when they left Egypt; why not require us to wear sandals? Or, we all had tattered clothing, why not demand we wear ripped and worn clothing. Why should we dwell in flimsy, impermanent huts, just because historically we did during the exodus? Why commemorate sukkos mamesh, when it is mamesh much more comfortable inside my real house?

It is interesting to note, that the Torah’s account of yetzias mitzrayim, the exodus repeatedly refers to the concept of bayis, the home. The very name of the festival, Pesach, derives from Hashem passing over the battim, the homes of Bnei Yisroel. The Torah contrasts Hashem’s striking the Egyptians with His saving the Jewish battim. Even the pascal lamb is designated as se l’veis avos, se laboyis, a lamb for each father’s bayis, a lamb for the entire bayis. What is a bayis and why does it play such a central role?

The Tolner Rebbe explained that a bayis is a home, not a house. What is the difference between a house and a home? A house is the physical structure within which I live. It is the bricks, mortar, wood and cement that form that within which I dwell and that which protects me from the elements.

The home, on the other hand is not physical at all. It is comprised of the people with whom I live, from whom I receive emotional and spiritual protection and about whom I can rely on and count on with consistency.

The gemora tells us that Rebbe Yosi never referred to his wife as ishti, my wife, but rather as beisi, my home. The Chizkuni explains that battim, or bayis refers to children. A Jewish home is never a matter of four walls, a roof, and furniture. Bayis consists of the family within, and the dedication of that family to follow Hashem as the Jews did as they gathered with their families to eat the Pesach sacrifice on that night.

It is therefore, not coincidental that Bnei Yisroel left Mitzrayim and specifically lived in sukkos, temporary, flimsy, impermanent houses. By living in such provisional and makeshift houses, the people would learn to identify with their home and not their house. This is the model that we emulate each year on sukkos. According to Rabbi Akiva, we seek to remember sukkos mamesh, the actual huts they resided in. Though we are blessed to have beautiful comfortable houses, we go out to a diras arei, a temporary dwelling to focus on our home, rather than on our house.

Many of us prepared for sukkos by going to Home Depot. In truth, it should be called House Depot. Sukkos reminds us to spend time doing true ‘home improvement,’ not only house improvement. Society is constantly pressuring us to redesign, refurnish and update our houses and fill them with the latest gadgets and appliances. Sukkos reminds us that the true ingredients of a bayis ne’eman b’yisroel, a faithful home is not square footage and property size, but the loyalty of the inhabitants towards one another and their combined loyalty to Hashem.

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