Judaism has been described as a “householder religion.” What does that mean? It means that although we have synagogues as centers, a great deal of Jewish expression takes place in the home. Think about it. What gives Judaism its flavor and makes it as much a cultural expression as a religious one? It’s all of the traditions that live and breathe within the family walls. From Shabbat candles on the dinner table to Chanukah candles in the chanukiah, from the ketubah hanging on the wall to the mezuzah hanging at a gentle angle on the door frame, from the braided challah on Friday night to the crunchy matzah on the seder plate, much of what we all do Jewishly has nothing to do with Temples or services or Rabbis. They have to do with family.
In the book the Jew and the Lotus, it is suggested that this “householder” status is why Judaism has survived so many trials and tribulations. No matter what was going on “out there,” whether families were being taken from their homes, or synagogues were destroyed, or wars were being fought… there was always Judaism taking place “in here.” If there was a morsel of bread, there was a blessing.
Thinking of Judaism this way renews my desire to hold it close. Even if we are not traditionally observant, every day holds opportunities to live more beautifully, more peacefully, more sumptuously, and Judaism in the home can be, if we allow it to be, the medium through which we reach these global goals. As I told my students: It’s not that we are saying that only Jews are supposed to live this way, but for us, Judaism in how we remember to live this way. So, if we choose a blessing to remind us to be thankful, then we we just used Judaism for the universal goal of gratitude. If we choose candles to remind us to bring our personal sparks into the world, then we just used Judaism for the universal goal of contributing to the greater good. If we eat matzah to remember to fight for those who are enslaved, then we used Judaism for the universal goal of working toward freeing those who are captive. Now, I know we can be grateful, be global contributors, and be freedom fighters without Judaism, but keeping this householder religion near and dear makes it a little easier not to forget.
There is a challenge, though, that comes with this householder nature, especially for those of us who are teachers of this evolving tradition. Rabbis don’t sit upon mountain tops contemplating the universe, nor do we live in seclusion, dedicating ourselves to the pursuits of knowledge and understanding. We are men and women who are often married, often with children, paying bills, getting child care, doing the dishes, throwing in the laundry, and cursing when we realize the car won’t start. We are “householder” Rabbis… not separate from our communities, but right in the middle of the storm beside them.
Part of me wishes we could go sit on a mountain top and contemplate God instead of running to the grocery store. We’d get a step closer to spiritual mastery for sure. But wouldn’t we lose our connection to the worries of our communities? I’m glad that when one of our students got sick in class and threw up, I (as a parent) barely flinched at needing to clean it up (in fact, my co-teacher said Cool Shul’s slogan should be: Cool Shul… Where You’re Rabbi Will Clean Up Your Puke). I’m glad that when I encounter families with issues with spouses or children, I understand both the pain and euphoria of those family relationships. And you know what? I may be a Rabbi, but I, too, find that days can pass, and in the flurry of busy-ness, I forget to plug into my householder religion. So If you are struggling with finding time for spiritual expression, welcome to the club. Me too. I’m no different. I’m the same trench as you are.
So, I’m starting to think this householder-religion-spiritual-leader thing may actually be more of an opportunity than an obstacle. If Rabbis were to be above worldly struggles, dedicated completely to spiritual pursuits without the day-to-day complexities, then wouldn’t we be asking too much of all of you if we ask you to try to elevate to such a spiritual level while holding on to those day to day complexities? Like home and job and traffic and finances and family? But if Rabbis have to struggle right next to you, then maybe we can use our training and understanding to help discover with you the biggest spiritual secrets. Such as how to live, love, and act more like the holiest versions of ourselves while… getting two cranky, tired kids washed, dressed, brushed, fed and out the door for school on a Monday morning after winter break. When we have THAT answer, THEN we will have spiritual mastery!!! 🙂
I look forward to being in the trenches with you.
Please join Cool Shul for a Purim Shabbat celebration and pot-luck dinner this Friday, March 18 at One Roof in Venice, CA.
Click here for the evite: http://evite.me/y4v2D3qJb7
Click here for the sign-up for Friday for supplies needed for the homeless: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/30e0945afad2fa13-blessing