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Where is Home?

May 8, 2009 | by Rebbetzin Feige Twerski

Home has nothing to do with bricks and mortar and furnishings; it has everything to do with the spirit which fills it.

There is something compelling about "going home."

"Home" immediately conjures the image of a safe haven, bringing out feelings akin to what the womb must have felt like -- warm, secure, cared for, a sense of belonging to something greater than oneself.

For those of us, who cannot conjure up such an image, there is an unfulfilled yearning -- a "homeless" feeling for that which we were not privileged to have.

I was one of the privileged. And for 30 years of married life, while my parents were still alive -- and I lived a thousand miles away from them, nurturing my own family -- whenever I went to visit them, I was still "going home."

While some spouses take exception to that sentiment, it was not, for me, an indictment of my current domicile, so much as a recognition that the child within me was still alive and in need of reassurance.

My husband confides that he often drives miles to a distant neighborhood, parking outside a vacant lot where years ago his childhood home stood. There he recalls events that warmed his heart as a child and that refresh his spirit even today.

"Home is where the heart is" proclaims the popular adage. But why is it that even as we move on to supposedly bigger and better things -- careers, marriage, children and grandchildren -- the longing for one's childhood "home" persists.

Indeed, in the dark winters of our lives, we draw strength from our young formative years, and in the waning sunset years, when other forms of cognizance fail us, memories of "home" are the last to go.

Technical, physiological reasons are given to explain this phenomenon -- about parts of the brain that are the last to deteriorate -- but I am convinced there is more to it than science has to offer.


An anecdote is told of a post-war refugee family transferred from place to place in search of settlement. On one occasion, the family was standing in a train station surrounded by their tattered suitcases, boxes and bags when a bystander approached the family's six-year-old daughter and remarked, "You poor darling, moving about so much with no place to call home."

The little girl looked up in surprise. "You are mistaken," she replied, "I do have a home I just don't have a house to put it into."

"You are mistaken," the little girl replied, "I do have a home I just don't have a house to put it into."

I personally could have been that little girl. I was born in Rumania during the terrible Holocaust years. My family was banished from the house in which we lived, forced to seek shelter wherever we could. We became refugees, fleeing from place to place.

After the war, we boarded a ship and set sail for what was then Palestine, only to be turned away at the shore of Haifa by the British. We moved on to Cyprus and then to Italy. At long last, we received papers to immigrate to the United States. Throughout the entire ordeal, though I was "houseless," I was never "homeless." I lived in the supportive embrace of my family, nourished by their love and faith.

Clearly, a "home" has little to do with structure, bricks and mortar or the accoutrements of furniture, drapes, etc. It has everything to do with the spirit which fills it.

The Midrash teaches that our Patriarchs envisioned Mount Moriah, site of Israel's Holy Temple, in different ways. Abraham, the first of the patriarchs called it a har, a mountain -- an awesome place which would challenge his descendents, test their resolve, and evoke greatness within them.

The second patriarch, Isaac, called it a sadeh, a field where one might, in the context of undisturbed nature, seek the solitude, which would access a relationship with the Infinite.

Jacob, the third patriarch, and father of the twelve tribes, designated this holiest space on earth as bayit -- a home.

Jacob, the third patriarch, and father of the twelve tribes, designated this holiest space on earth as bayit, -- a home.

In referring to the Temple mount as a bayit a home, Jacob defined its essence. In describing the place where God and man would meet, as a "home," Jacob acknowledged the validity of both of his predecessors' views, but insisted that challenge and solitude require the support of a home for their success.

The Midrash concludes that the Almighty preferred Jacob's designation above the others. And so, a home it has ever been.


Indeed, more than anything else, a home is a sanctuary for the spirit, where one's soul can touch base with its source, the Master of the Universe.

Today, while we no longer have our Bais Hamikdash, the Temple, we do have our homes.

Our Sages advise that in the Temple's absence, the special vessels which appointed the historic house of God in Jerusalem, be symbolically replicated in our individual homes:

  • The menorah, the candelabra of the Bais Hamikdash, symbolizes the oral tradition, the creative moral energy which maintains the contemporaniety of Jewish values in our abodes.
  • The shulchan, the golden table with the wondrous, ever-fresh show breads, represents our worldly needs, the material sustenance whose acquisition requires integrity and balance, and whose blessings mandate that they be appreciated and kept fresh so that we have no need to indulge in excess.
  • The mizbayach, the altar, site of the daily offerings, signifies the necessary sacrifices demanded of family members to transcend their personal wants in deference to the needs of others.
  • Finally, there is the Holy of Holies, the sublime inner sanctum, which speaks to immutable moral principles, and through its cherubim symbolizes the intimate relationship between husband and wife, the energy of the home fires.
  • Of singular relevance to women is the critical service performed by the kohen (priest), the religious functionary who served as the Temple's homemaker. In its current manifestation, it is the woman who, in large measure, has assumed the responsibilities of the kohen. She is the architect of the lofty center of life, and like the priests of old, creates the spirit, ambiance, the quality and energy of the tabernacle entrusted into her care. How awesome a role it is!


The Talmud explains that when the Almighty created woman, He invested her with a Binah Yesaro, a special dimension of understanding and intuition.

A contemporary thinker, Ashley Montague, in his book The Natural Superiority of Woman echoes this thought referring to woman's "genius of humanness."

By all accounts, God graced women with a special capacity for relationships, thus equipping them to be His delegates, the builders of the most sacred spaces on earth -- our homes.

Throughout the ages, over our long and tortured history of persecution in the many lands of our dispersion, the Jewish home was an oasis -- a quiet harbor in a stormy world.

Over our long and tortured history of persecution, the Jewish home was an oasis -- a quiet harbor in a stormy world.

Though oppression and deprivation afflicted the Jew in the streets of the diaspora, the moment he stepped over the threshold of his modest home, he entered a veritable palace where he was made to feel like a king.

He was surrounded by a loving wife, children and above all else, a way of life and purpose for living that no one, not even a bigoted, hateful world, could take away from him. His home gave him a raison d'etre. His downtrodden spirit was uplifted, his soul soothed and quickened to life.

History has proven time and again, that the home is the pivotal factor in our national survival and the key to the redemption of our people. Our Sages teach that it was in the merit of Jewish women that our forebearers in Egypt were redeemed. Despite 210 years of slavery in a decadent society, all attempts to acculturate and demoralize the Jews were to no avail because Jewish wives and mothers had transformed their homes into bastions of strength, courage and morality.


All of which begs the question.

How is it that we have allowed this most remarkable agency, the home, to become devalued in our time? How is it that we have allowed the role of women, the home's primary force, to be denigrated?

How have we suffered the secular world with its idolatry of self to convince us that there can be a more worthwhile calling than creating places of loving, caring and belonging? How have we permitted our culture to convince us that a role that creates a link in an eternal chain can be an inferior vocation? How did they persuade us that bringing redemption to humanity is not the ultimate in gratification?

The need to "go home" is part of the human condition and will inevitably confront all of us during our life. Whether it is a "homesick" feeling, a yearning for that which we had or a "homeless" feeling for that which we were not privileged to have, our home experience needs to be dealt with if we are to live productively.

In the last analysis, home exerts a powerful influence, shaping past, present and future. The implication for women, who are God's appointed stewards over this sacred space, is that they hold the vital key to mankind's success and the realization of the world's destiny.

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