About six years ago, my family brought home Shayna, our black mini labradoodle. I can remember that moment when she first got out of the car and came into the house. She was energetic, excited and clueless all at the same time, dancing on her tip toes as she sniffed around, whimpering slightly while gazing at everyone around her and at her strange surroundings. Yes, she also left the occasional surprise package on the carpet.
It’s hard to think of her feeling like such a stranger, because since then, she’s become very attached to the house. She no longer needs to mark her territory, because the whole house IS her territory. She’s a perfect example of how a house can become a home.
My portion, vayetze, is all about finding new homes. The word Vayetze means “and he went,” referring to Jacob, who was constantly on the go. The portion begins with Jacob escaping from his brother Esau, heading for a new home – actually an old one for his family, the place where his mother and grandparents had grown up. He learns quite a few things there before returning to Canaan. By the time he returns, he is married to four wives, has 13 kids and lots of sheep. He’s also ready to confront Esau one again.
The lesson of this portion is that you need to leave home in order to really grow up, but also, when you go to new places, like Shayna did, those places can become home as well.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived in the same house all my life. Stamford is definitely home to me. But I also have other homes that have played a major role in my life and have helped me to grow.
I love my camp, Camp Wah-nee, which I’ve been going to for five years. I’ve really grown up quite a bit there, learning how to keep track of my belongings, how to keep my things neat and organized, and making my own bed. Camp also has taught me how to live in close quarters with others and deal with conflict. It’s a place where I’ve done a lot of growing up, both emotionally and physically. Camp definitely has become a second home of sorts.
But I can remember the first day I was there. I didn’t know what was what and who was who. I was kind of like Shayna, without the surprise packages – and everyone around me also felt new and strange.
There are a number of other places that have also become like home to me: there’s Cape Cod, Sharon and Long Island, where my parents’ families are and where I’ve spent many holidays. Then there’s South Beach, our favorite vacation spot, where we’ve had great times with friends. We’ve been going for four years so now we know where the best places are to swim and to shop.
Being Jewish teaches us that every place you go is a little like home. Jews have
always known that home is portable. We can take it with us anywhere, because we’ve been almost everywhere. We’ve had to wander from place to place. But wherever we’ve gone, the Torah has come with us. Some might say that this has been the secret to Jewish survival. All we need is that Torah and our loved ones around us, and any place can become home.
For my mitzvah project, I’ve been collecting for an organization called PAWS, which finds shelter for homeless dog and cats and then helps place them into homes. It’s the perfect way for me to teach the lessons found in my portion and to help provide other families with the joy that Shayna has brought mine.
Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Ross Levensohn on Vayetze
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