I had a friend who after he got married lived in a gorgeous apartment in Eretz Yisrael. It was owned by his in-laws, but they let them live there for many years while he studied in kollel. The large apartment was extremely comfortable and filled with expensive furniture.
A rebbe of mine commented to me about my friend, “Do you know why they have such a gorgeous apartment? Because to them, it makes no difference whether they live in a gorgeous apartment or a simple apartment. Other people might be affected by their luxurious apartment. It would accustom them to that lifestyle and transform those luxuries into necessities. However, your friend and his wife are not affected. That’s why Hashem gave it to them, and not to others.” This concept made an impression on me.
In Parshas Vayishlach, when Yaakov Avinu returned to Eretz Yisrael, it says “vayiven lo bayis—he built a house for himself; ulmikneihu asah sukkos—and for his possessions, he made sukkahs (temporary dwellings).”
The Tur quotes his brother Reb Yehudah, who associates each of the shalosh regalim (three pilgrimage holidays: Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos) to the three avos (patriarchs). Yaakov Avinu is associated with the Yom Tov of Sukkos, as Yaakov made these sukkahs for his possessions.
Why did Yaakov build a house for himself, but sukkahs for his possessions? The Sfas Emes explains that Yaakov intentionally built temporary sukkahs for his possessions in order to educate his children and future generations that we are only here temporarily, and we must not get caught up in the materialism of this world.
Yaakov’s entire existence centered around the next world. He achieved the level of a ben Olam Haba (a person who has a place in the next world). This is alluded to in the word “vayiven,” as it contains the word “ben.” Yaakov was able to live in a permanent house and still feel transient, because he didn’t get caught up in material possessions. For Yaakov, a permanent house allowed him to benefit from the serenity of this type of home. Rav Hutner says that a nice (not necessarily luxurious) home gives a person peace of mind. It makes one able to focus on what he needs to do.
Yaakov named this city Sukkos, referring to the temporary structures, because he understood that his family would need a reminder that their lives here are temporary.
Pirkei Avos says that this world is like a corridor to the next world; it’s the entrance way into the palace. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto reminds us to use this world merely as a vehicle to get to the next world, and not get preoccupied with all the vices which are so readily available here.
Daily life contains varying degrees of struggle, but once a week we achieve the level of Yaakov, being able to live with some luxury and delicacies while staying truly focused. That day is Shabbos.
The Torah says, “Sheishes yomim ta’avod—six days of the week you shall work.” The word sheishes (six) shares the same root as shayish (marble). Our worldly activities attract us in a way similar to beautiful marble, giving the impression that enjoyment of those activities will last forever. The glitz and glamor can entice us to believe that it is this world which is primary for us, causing us to easily forget our true end-goal: Olam Haba!
However, one day a week we rest from our struggles, as the pasuk concludes, “uvayom hashevi’I tishbos— and on the seventh day you shall rest.” On Shabbos, we wear the finest clothing, eat delicious foods, and enjoy all sorts of delicacies—yet we’re not concerned we’ll lose focus. Shabbos transforms our homes. A house that has the Shabbos candles lit, the table set and delicious Shabbos food is at the level of the home of Yaakov. Indeed, the kedusha of Shabbos permeates a person’s home the entire following week.
This week is the yahrzeit of my mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Ita Singer, a”h. The home of my mother-in-law always looked lovely and the food was so delicious. The amenities in the home projected a feeling that their purpose was to bring us closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. That’s the type of home we need to aspire to make for ourselves and for our families. Rebbetzin Singer’s granddaughter, Esther Stengel, is getting married to Shlomo Rottenberg this week. She will be starting a new home to continue her grandmother’s legacy. May Hashem bless Esther and each of us to create an inspiring home like that of Rebbetzin and Rabbi Singer a”h.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged, but contributions are always welcome. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.