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The Jewish home – part 2

How to achieve shalom?

Even the everyday act of eating is celebrated with spiritual connotations. The dinner table corresponds to the altar of the Temple. Does that mean we worship food, an accusation often directed at Jewish people? No, because even eating is a sacred act and the dinner table will also function as a place where words of Godly wisdom are exchanged in the conversations that accompany the eating, where Hebrew prayers resound and songs are sung in praise of their God.

Where there’s a home, there are people. Of course, people don’t always get along with each other, least of all families, but in the home of the religious Jew there is a standard set, shalom bayit, a peaceful home, that is worth striving for. It is an aspect of that most overused Hebrew word (along with hallelujah and amen), shalom. The usual understanding is that of peace, either internally as a calmness or externally as an absence of war. Shalom is a six lettered word with tons of meaning. In its truest sense it invades all areas of mind, body and spirit. It implies health, safety, completeness and wholeness. In Israel it is used both to greet people and say goodbye. It’s an all purpose word – when confronted by a Jew, when in doubt, just wish them shalom and you’ve made a start.

The Jewish family unit has been the bedrock of their culture and a key factor in the incredible survival of the Jewish people. While mayhem ruled around and about, this God-ordained unit ticked away doing its stuff, feeding, nurturing and educating the next generation. For example, the Passover ceremony is primarily geared towards teaching the children and reminding them of their heritage.

As you enter a religious Jewish home the first thing you notice is the small object affixed to the door post. This is the mezuzah, a box containing a scroll. On the scroll are the following verses from the Bible.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

This defines everything. It is the Shema, the most revered Jewish prayer. It declares the centrality of God and His commandments in this home and the necessity of passing on these beliefs to the children of the household.

The Hebrew word for family is mishpochah. The key concept here is that it is not the nuclear family of 2.4 children (now 1.7!)  that we have been brought up with, but the extended family that includes grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, where the cooking pot is in permanent use, where the atmosphere jangles with human voices, cries, prayers and laughter, where caring and sharing crosses the generations. This has become an utterly alien concept to most of us these days. We strive for our own space, we crave personal expression. Community has been replaced by individuality as we disengage our lives from people and replace them with stuff, such as consumer electronics, furniture and objets d’art. Stuff doesn’t answer back, stuff doesn’t have demands, stuff doesn’t need looking after.

But stuff doesn’t look after you when you’re poorly, stuff doesn’t go that extra mile for you, stuff doesn’t love you. Mishpochah ensures that the wisdom and stories of your grandparents are not lost, mishpochah celebrates family occasions as extended times of joy and sharing, mishpochah provides an endless supply of babysitters, household operatives and shoulders to cry on. Mishpochah means you never need to be lonely, though it could also potentially be stifling and claustrophobic. Mishpochah, though, does require a big house.

This is an extract from the book, Livin’ the Life, available for £10 at https://www.sppublishing.com/livin-the-life-151-p.asp

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