Home, Holy Home: Chanukas Habayis| September 13, 2022
To bring blessing to a new home, we open its doors
Mazel tov! You just received the keys to your new house. You enter excitedly, taking in the layout and considering where to place the furniture. But in a Jewish home, there are preliminary matters that need to be dealt with first.
We know there’s great significance attached to the beginning of a process. In that vein, when entering a new dwelling, we first consecrate our home to be a place of Torah and kedushah.
Rav Yaakov Hillel notes that the yetzer hara works arduously to gain control over these first moments in a new home, in order to effectively impact the future environment. It’s imperative, therefore, to resist his overtures, and successfully elevate those first precious moments for kedushah. Ideally, upon entering a new home, one should immediately say Tehillim (specifically perek 30), a brachah, or do a mitzvah, to dedicate the new residence as an abode of holiness.
Not a Housewarming Party
It’s customary to have a chanukas habayis to inaugurate a new home, and there are various opinions as to the source for such a ceremony. Rav Yaakov Hillel suggests that the custom’s origin is based on the Shivas Yemei Miluim (week of dedication) that the Jews had in the desert after the consecration of the Mishkan.
Alternatively, Shaarei Torah Habayis posits that the source for the chanukas habayis is inferred from the laws concerning a milchemes reshus. When discussing the laws of a milchemes reshus, the Torah lists several groups of people who are exempt from participating. One category is a man who has built a house, but did not yet dedicate it. Clearly, there is some kind of dedication that is supposed to be held upon building a new house.
How is a chanukas habayis celebrated? Shaarei Torah Habayis says that while the Shulchan Aruch doesn’t discuss any halachos connected with consecrating a new house, the Acharonim note that it’s customary to make a seudah marking the occasion as an expression of thanks to Hashem for the new house and the blessings He has bestowed on its owner.
There are various opinions about whether the seudah of a chanukas habayis is a seudas mitzvah. Magen Avraham quotes Be’er Sheva that only in Eretz Yisrael is such a meal considered a seudas mitzvah. When one buys a house in Eretz Yisrael, one is fulfilling the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, and the seudah is the culminating event of this mitzvah. It should include divrei Torah and words of praise to Hashem.
Heart of the Home
A central aspect of a Jewish home is learning Torah and serving Hashem. The Shelah Hakadosh notes that Yaakov Avinu sent Yehudah to Mitzrayim ahead of the family to establish a place of learning. Likewise, when entering a new home, one should designate which room will be dedicated to learning.
Yesod V’shoresh Ha’avodah emphasizes that one should verbally state that this room will be used for learning, and that one’s intention is that this house will be used for avodas Hashem. Levush Mordechai notes that when one inaugurates a house for spiritual purposes, then the seudah becomes a seudas mitzvah (assuming the meal has divrei Torah). It’s unfortunate, he explains, that many people focus on making the meal, and lose focus on the service of Hashem.
In yet another explanation, Targum Yonasan says that the words of the pasuk about the soldiers who have not yet dedicated their new homes (“lo chancho”) imply that they did not yet put up mezuzahs. In a teshuvah, Divrei Malkiel notes that when one owns a house, he’s obligated from the Torah to put up a mezuzah, and therefore the seudah at a chanukas habayis is celebrating the mitzvah of setting up the mezuzahs (which would also apply in chutz l’Aretz).
A Conduit for Brachah
The Chida, in Toras Hashelamim, outlines an entire ceremony for making a chanukas habayis. The Steipler Gaon says that one should say the 15 perakim of Shir Hamaalos, and then the perakim of Yoshev B’seiser (perek 91) and Mizmor Shir Chanukas Habayis (perek 30). Technically, the seudah celebrating a chanukas habayis can be held for up to a year from moving into one’s house; however, one can say these chapters of Tehillim without making a meal.
Sheim MiShmuel, based on the Maharal, sees a powerful message in making a meal and inviting many people to join this simchah. He explains that a house is something that has walls, and is by definition contained. Brachah, on the other hand, is about a state of expansiveness. In order to bring brachah into the home, one should open one’s home like Avraham Avinu, and then the house becomes a place that is a wellspring of chesed and thereby a conduit for blessing.
Mystically, there is a lot of deeper significance in doing a chanukas habayis. Otzros HaTorah writes at length about the effect a place has on a person. A place of holiness draws a person closer to Hashem, while a place of impurity can block this connection. It’s not for naught that Hashem completely destroyed Sedom and its surrounding areas, making it completely inhabitable.
In an interesting parallel, years ago the city of Lomza suffered from a strange phenomenon. While the city boasted a hospital with excellent doctors and superior medical care, hospitalized patients were consistently succumbing to diseases that were not their primary medical issue. Upon examination, it was discovered that the hospital building, which was made of wood, contained within its walls the bacteria of many diseases. It was these germs that were killing the patients.
Rav Elya Lopian, who studied at the Lomza yeshivah, noted that this phenomenon applies in the spiritual arena as well. Spiritual “molecules,” he explained, penetrate the walls of our homes. A home that was occupied by people who were not Torah observant creates an atmosphere that is imbibed its walls, and needs to be rectified.
The Imrei Emes offers a fascinating insight on a mishnah in Avos. The mishnah (3:3) teaches that two people sitting together with no words of Torah between them is likened to a habitat of scoffers. The Imrei Emes explains that these two people are trying to speak words of Torah, yet they’re distracted, and unable to do so. Perhaps, he explains, the reason for their inability to speak in Torah is that the place they are sitting in is a place where scoffers once sat. Hence, the mishnah doesn’t say that that they are scoffers, rather that it’s a place of scoffers.
The lingering influence of a room’s inhabitants is the reason that some rabbanim don’t allow using theaters for Rosh Hashanah davening, although they afford more space. And the Vilna Gaon states that in a shul built entirely for the sake of Heaven, down to the intentions of those chopping the wood, all the tefillos will be said with kavanah.
Recently, there was a grocery store in Beit Shemesh that unfortunately sold pig meat. When it was subsequently bought by a frum Jew, Rav Yitzchak Yosef told the owner to have a minyan of people learn in the store for an entire night before opening it to the public, to offset the effects of the spiritual impurity.
Chazal teach us that in the future, the walls of our homes will testify to all that occurred in the home. It’s important to do some form of chanukas habayis to inject positive spiritual forces into the home, and then to strive to maintain this spiritual standard all the while we live in this home.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 810)
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