Judaism: The Temple of Our Home
Rabbi Lazer GurkowRabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow, currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs.
To Live is To Remember
Everyone grieves differently. Some work hard to ignore the memories of a loved one because they are just too painful to revisit, others work hard to preserve the memories because without them they lose the gift of the past. Why should our loved one die twice, once in body and again in our hearts?
The Jewish people suffered a collective loss when the Temple was destroyed. We haven’t had another temple since. Some in the Jewish world have resolved to move forward as a Diaspora nation without a temple. Who needs a temple, when we get on well enough without it? We have G-d, the Torah, our prayers and good deeds. To this I say, yes we have those, but so did our ancestors and if their religion was enhanced by the Temple, ours can be enhanced by its memory. How so?
Your home is your temple and just as the Temple was graced with five primary artifacts so is your home. Let’s begin with the Ark, the essential bond between Jew and G-d. The Ark and Holy of Hollies were off limits to everyone, but G-d and the High Priest. The Ark housed the tablets, the only physical object existence given us directly by G-d. Housed in the ark, concealed from prying eyes, the tablets were sacred and revered. They are our intimacy with G-d.
In the temple of our home, the ark represents intimacy and the Holy of Holies, the bedroom. This is the inner sanctum of a marriage, a place where no one, but husband and wife, may tread. This is their place and theirs alone and because it is, it becomes the cradle of their bond, relationship and family.
Today, we don’t have an ark, but we have the Torah; G-d’s mind and heart, His intellect and desire. When we study the Torah we absorb G-d’s thoughts and ideas into our conscience and thought stream. It is an intimate union of human mind and Divine thought, human heart and Divine will. It is the heart of our religion and the soul of our connection. Without it, G-d and we cannot be one.
The Candelabra radiated the Temple’s sanctity and light to the world at large. Everything is uplifted in the presence of G-d, every experience, exchange, activity and object is holier when bathed in the halo of the Candelabra’s light. The heart beats faster and the blood flows quicker when we sense, feel and know that G-d is truly with us.
In the temple of our home it is the warm glow of palpable love that bathes the family and its environs. It is manifest in the way we relate to each other, raise our children and interact with neighbors and friends. Everyone wants to be part of our circle of light, it is obvious that our children are raised in a happy and balanced home and that our families are at peace. The parent’s love is radiant in the children.
In religion the candelabra is our good deeds. If the Torah is the heart of our faith, the good deeds are its pipelines into the world. The holiness that suffuses us in Torah study radiates outward when we behave in consonance with the Torah. Our good deeds bathe the world in the halo and warmth of G-d’s Torah. The home, neighborhood and objects with which the good deeds are performed are all sublimated.
The altar of incense was indoors and it represented the delight that we and G-d take in each other. It was kindled once a day, but its effects were long lasting. The aromatic fragrance seeped into the very pours of the Temple’s walls and from there into the nation’s soul.
In the temple of our home, the inner altar represents the internal love that produces ecstasy and delight. It is not bold and passionate, it is subtle and tender, but its presence pervades the house and sets the tone for the entire family. It is a loving gesture or a tender look exchanged during otherwise boring and tedious routines. It turns a relationship into a marriage and a marriage into a delight.
In religion this is prayer, a time of true bonding and exquisite pleasure. When one sits down to pray, with a relaxed mind, joyful heart and exultant soul, the prayer becomes a bonding experience of true delight. The meditative fusion with G-d experienced in prayer produces a glow that lasts all day and uplifts everything we do. It is the sparkle in our eye and the bounce in our step. It is spiritual delight.
The outer Altar was in the courtyard. Its roaring flames reached for the heavens, releasing torrents of energy and heat. This was the altar on which the sacrifices were offered, cementing our bond with G-d.
If the incense was the spark of our marriage, the outer altar is its cauldron. Fires do two things, they melt and they forge. The inner spark melts the heart, but the outer flame forges the metal that sharpens our commitment to each other. Marriages entail compromise and sacrifice, stress and labor, but the cauldron of searing love, turns the burden of sacrifice into an offering of pleasure and gift of love.
In religion this represents the sacrifices we make for G-d. It is not uncommon for our cravings and interests to be different from G-d’s and religion obliges us to make sacrifices for G-d. This can lead to resentment unless we fan the flames of our love. When we focus on G-d’s magnificence, largesse and love for us, it inspires our love for Him. Empowered by love, we view our offerings as an honor and our relationship as a privilege. We can’t have one without the other.
Finally in the Temple there was a table for showbread. Twelve loaves were baked each week and placed before G-d on this table. Every Shabbat the loaves were exchanged, new loaves were placed on the table and the old ones were distributed to the priests.
In the temple of our home this represents the kitchen and family dining area. More of life is lived in the kitchen than anywhere else. It is where meals are cooked, conversations are enjoyed and homework is done. The kitchen is the life and hub of the family and meal times are its pulse. It is where individuals gather daily to spend time, exchange ideas and share laughter. They remember that they are family.
In religion this represents the celebrations of Shabbat and holidays around our festive tables. It is the Seder of Passover, the breakfast of Yom Kippur and the meals in the Sukkah. They aren’t tender or loving, they are hectic and boisterous, but they are life, they are religion and they are family. Torah must be enjoyable and fun if it is to be lasting. The table is where Judaism comes to life, especially when it is shared with those who have less.