Home Sweet Home
Extended travel is the best opportunity to really appreciate home. And when you journey long and far enough you might get a bit homesick . Even Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz with an enchanted world of good witches, talking animals and scarecrows, said in one of her last scenes; “There’s no place like home” and with three clicks of her Silver Shoes magically flew off to her Uncle and Aunt in Kansas.
My problem with “There’s no place like home” is that I’m not so sure what “home” means to most people.
For some, “home” is where they were born or grew up, where their parents and family lived or where they now live with their “significant other” and kids. Home might be their place of academic study, the place they pay taxes, their full-time job site, their passport issuer or even their special place of vacation where they feel in a state of peace and tranquility (like the beaches of Honolulu).
Ingenious homes in unexpected places
Believe it or not, there are places that in normative societies would be considered “hell on earth”, yet thousands of men, women and children call them home.
In this fascinating TED Talk documentary, photographer Iwan Baan shows how people build their homes in the most unlikely places; an unfinished, abandoned skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela, a city on the water in Nigeria, and an underground village in China, for example.
For a Jew, “home” might mean a particular Synagogue or House of Study; as a spiritual home, though not necessarily a place to sleep. For many Jews the Land of Israel is the true home, whether or not they have lived in Israel for any period of time. In fact for centuries Jews have considered the Holy Land as their true home even if they’ve never seen pictures of the country, never mind visited there.
Concomitantly, there are also thousands of devout and religious Jews in the diaspora, with sufficient resources to live very comfortably in Israel, yet choose to live anywhere else. Which in my mind casts some shadow of doubt on the Land of Israel being a “home” for them.
So where is home for a Jew on the road?
Where is home?
I came upon another inspiring TED Talk called “Where is home?”, by the well-known world traveler and author Pico Iyer who explains how world travel gives a person a deeper insight into what home means.
Pico Iyer speaks about being born into an Indian family, growing up and studying in England, living in the States and spending 25 years in Japan. All this while doing world-travel and writing books. He concludes with the following words:
“And, of course, I’m not suggesting that anybody here go into a monastery. That’s not the point. But I do think it’s only by stopping movement that you can see where to go. And it’s only by stepping out of your life and the world that you can see what you most deeply care about and find a home.
And I’ve noticed so many people now take conscious measures to sit quietly for 30 minutes every morning just collecting themselves in one corner of the room without their devices, or go running every evening, or leave their cell phones behind when they go to have a long conversation with a friend.
Movement is a fantastic privilege, and it allows us to do so much that our grandparents could never have dreamed of doing. But movement, ultimately, only has a meaning if you have a home to go back to. And home, in the end, is of course not just the place where you sleep. It’s the place where you stand”.
I think that for a Jew “home” has a deeper spiritual essence. It is written in the Torah: “And you shall make for Me a tabernacle, and I shall dwell within you” (Exodus 25:8).
The commentaries point out that it does not say “I will dwell within IT” but rather “within YOU”, hinting that God doesn’t “dwell” at any particular address on the globe but rather within every Jew who makes his mind, heart and soul a container worthy of God “dwelling” within him.
To me this means that wherever you go and however long you travel the face of the earth, you can always be at “home” at the spot you are right now. You just need to be aware of God.
Of course feeling the presence of God isn’t a simple matter at all, but when you travel like a proud Jew on the road, and fulfill your obligations as a Jew to the best of your ability, you can be sure of God’s presence wherever you are.