Thursday, June 29, 2023

Parshas Chukas Balak 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Chukas-Balak

11Tamuz 5783/June 30, 2023


Every summer when our family heads up to camp, every time I get in my car during the first few weeks of the camp season, my smartphone tells me that it’s an hour and thirty-three minutes to get home. No one told my phone that we moved to Camp Dora Golding in the Pocono Mountains for the summer and it still thinks 3 Landau Lane in Spring Valley, NY is our home. Only after a few weeks does it register our address change.

Then, at the end of the summer, for the first few weeks after we return to our house at 3 Landau Lane, my smartphone tells me that it’s an hour and thirty-three minutes to get home. It still continues to register our bungalow in camp as “home”.

What really defines a place as being home?

My mother had a magnet on her fridge that read: “A house is made of brick and stone; a home is made of love alone.”

A house is a geographical location. But a home is a place where one feels embraced, loved and welcomed. A house is a physical structure; a home is a place where one can recharge himself and be authentic.

We hope that our houses are also our homes, but sadly that is not always the case. When one’s residence is a place of constant discord, neglect, or apathy, it may be a house, but it is not a home.

The Gemara (Shabbos 118b) states that Rebbe Yossi never referred to his wife as ishti, my wife, but rather as beisi, my home.  Chizkuni (Shemos 1:21) notes that battim, or bayis, refers to children.

A home is not merely four walls, a roof, and furniture. It’s a place of family and family values, where everyone in the home feels appreciated and mentally and emotionally secure and confident. A makeshift dwelling can be a home, while a stately mansion can be no more than a large house.

We bless every Chosson and Kallah that they build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel. It is not a blessing that they find a nice house to live in, important as that may be. Rather, it is a blessing that they create a home for each other, in the sense that they are there for each other and cherish each other, and their future children.


When B’nei Yisroel left Mitzrayim, the first place they arrived at was called Succos, alluding to the fact that in the desert they lived in flimsy, impermanent houses.  By living in such provisional and makeshift houses, the nation learned that even in a desert where they didn’t have houses, they could still create homes.


Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik noted that Beis Knesses (Shul) and Beis Medrash (Study Hall) are often translated as Houses of Worship for prayer or Torah study. The more accurate translation, however, is that they are Homes of Worship, where a Jew can feel embraced, elevated and “at home”. (The delicate balance is that while one should feel at home in the sense that he feels he belongs there and he can be genuine and transparent when he davens, he still must have reverence and awe for its holiness.)

The Beis HaMikdash wasn’t meant to merely be a stone building. Rather, it was meant to be a Home for Hashem, as it were. When our ancestors began to view the Beis HaMikdash as a location where they fulfilled their mandated tasks emotionlessly, it lost its purpose.

Hashem does not need a house; His presence fills the world. He desired a Home, where His Presence would be welcomed, so that we could feel connected to Him, as it were. When the Beis HaMikdash became a House of Service, and not a Home of connection, Hashem allowed it to be destroyed.

During the Three Weeks of mourning for the Beis Hamikdash, we do not mourn the physical House that was destroyed. By yearning for the rebuilding of the Home for His Presence, we begin to recreate it even while we are still in exile.


So, can our camp bungalow be considered our home?

During the summer months when camp is filled with wonderful campers and staff members, in a warm atmosphere that fosters smiles, spiritual growth, and fun, it surely can be classified as home. But the day after the camp season ends and campers and staff leave, despite the fact that the campus is still magnificent, it is no longer our home.

If my smartphone tells me my home is still in camp a few weeks after the camp season ended, I guess my smartphone isn’t so smart after all.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum