hen asked the secret of a healthy home, Rav Moshe told a chassan, “You have to try very, very hard to understand her.”
What does this mean? On one level, a husband has to know his wife’s taste in flowers, and whether it bothers her if he leaves his jacket hanging over a chair. But real understanding is far more sophisticated. Rav Moshe was conveying that if one spouse is upset, rather than getting defensive or frustrated, it’s the other spouse’s job to try to determine the core of the issue. It takes insight and effort to comprehend what makes another person happy or sad, what makes someone feel insecure or safe, and what gives someone true meaning in life.
His advice for building a happy home varied from talmid to talmid. I once took an engaged couple to Rav Moshe for advice on how to build their future home. I’d like to share his words, which I recorded at the time.
Important note: As with everything I write in the name of my rebbi, this is based on my understanding and most certainly does not convey the full depth of what he wanted to teach on the subject. One can assume he would have tailored his advice to each couple.
I’d like to thank the family of Rav Moshe Shapira for approving the dissemination of his Torah in this format. The family has requested that I restate the Rav’s sole tzavaah before his passing, setting forth a strict prohibition against the publication and distribution of his Torah without his family’s consent.
Building a Jewish Home
Chazal say, “Let your home be a meeting place for sages” (Avos 1:4). In practice, this means creating an atmosphere “shemechapsim pnim v’ruach,” where visitors eagerly experience the ruchniyus of your home. When they leave, guests come away with a feeling that this is a home where the focus is on the important things in life.
It should be a home where the niggun, the sweet sounds of Torah, are heard. Preferably with a chavrusa, but also the sounds of your own learning. Your wife will be happy watching you learning seriously. Let her have that good feeling and let her be proud of you!
Perhaps have a chavrusa with your wife. It doesn’t have to be every day. Just keep it consistent, maybe twice or three times a week.
Some young couples think a home is a place to let your hair down. They think it’s a place to relax and disconnect after a long day in the beis medrash. In fact, it’s the opposite. You take the avodah that you worked on during the day and bring it into your home. Your home is an extension of the beis medrash.
[Note: Rav Moshe said on many occasions that a home has to have a warm, nurturing, and enjoyable environment. This is not a contradiction. The beauty and wisdom of a Jewish home is that it’s simultaneously welcoming and pleasurable, yet inspiring and steeped in Torah values.]
Another point: The Mishnah advises, “Let the poor be part of your household” (Avos 1:5). Make your home a place of chesed.
Most of all, your home should be a place of mutual respect and honor. Make sure you’re always giving your wife love and deep respect (as the Rambam says in Hilchos Ishus 15:19). Always ask yourself, how can I do more for my spouse?
These are the foundations of a Jewish home.
The Cry of the Mezuzah
Rav Moshe gave an extraordinary insight to expand on the idea that a Jewish home is not a place to disengage from avodas Hashem.
The Rambam concludes the laws of mezuzah with a powerful description of the mitzvah. His words include:
“Every time you enter and leave your home you encounter the [mezuzah which, by containing the Shema, invokes the] unity of Hakodosh Baruch Hu’s name. This prompts you to remember His love for you, v’yaor mishnaso v’shgiyaso b’hevlay hazman, which wakes you from your slumber and indiscretions in the illusions of time. You then recall that the only thing that lasts forever is the knowledge of the Rock of the World. This will prompt you to return to your senses and follow the correct path.” (Hilchos Mezuzah 6:13)
Astonishingly, the central phrase is almost identical to the wording the Rambam uses to describe one of the most emotional mitzvos at one of the most dramatic moments in the year: the mitzvah of blowing shofar:
“… Wake up from your slumber … this refers to those who forget the truth [because they are caught up in] the illusions of time” (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:4).
Our lives are filled with hevel, meaningless distractions. The word hevel also means steam. Steam may give the illusion of being something real, but up close, it’s clear that there’s nothing there.
Precious time is running out. Who can afford to waste it with hevlei hazman? The shofar is our wake-up call. At the most propitious moments of the year it forces us to focus on our eternal destiny.
In his careful choice of words, the Rambam teaches that what the shofar does for our year, the mezuzah does for our cherished Jewish home. As we walk into our home, it reminds us that “this is a place for building.”
The Hebrew word for sleep (yoshein) is made up of the same letters as the word for old (yashan). When asleep, nothing changes. This symbolizes a world without hischadshus, renewal. It’s the world of the proverbial hamster wheel. The days, months, and years roll by and we remain in exactly the same spiritual place. Life passes by, and we’ve achieved nothing. This is aging in its most brutal, depressing, and terrifying form.
When we wake up in the morning, we “remove the sleep from our eyes.” In doing so, we’re challenged to recreate ourselves and ask: How can I reach a new level of spiritual growth? How can my mindset remain youthful and vibrant?
The Rambam teaches us that when we enter our home, we face the same challenge as the one we face each morning when we wake up to a new day. The world of the street, the reshus harabim (public domain) is filled with enticing challenges of non-Torah values. It generates “hevlei hazman.” It’s an environment where one can easily slip into the mindset of “slumber.” Before we know it, the years have gone by and we are old, physically and spiritually.
In contrast, our reshus hayachid (private domain) offers the possibility to serve Hashem completely, with all our hearts. This is reflected in a fascinating halachic ruling. A public domain, reshus harabim, only extends upward to a limit of ten tefachim (less than three feet). Symbolically, it remains anchored to the physical world. In contrast, a reshus hayachid continues indefinitely heavenward.
Someone who brings the reshus harabim into his home has no bayis, which is by definition a reshus hayachid, a private domain. The mezuzah is our wake-up call. In the beautiful words of Yeshayahu Hanavi (44:13), “K’tiferes adam lasheves bayis — The splendor of man is found through his home.”
Learning from Our Enemies
Another dimension of mezuzah can be learned from a surprising source. Korach, the quintessential baal machlokes and archenemy of all forms of peace and harmony, challenged Moshe Rabbeinu with the question: “Does a house full of seforim need a mezuzah?” What nefarious proposition lay behind his taunt?
The Torah tells us that a mezuzah must be placed “b’shaarecha,” on your gates. A gate is the place through which people enter and leave a city. It is also the natural setting for a beis din, a Jewish Court of Law (see, for example, Devarim 25:7). To be sure, there are practical reasons for placing a beis din at the entrance of the city. Yet can we discern a more profound meaning in the beis din’s location?
Each city, like a Jewish home, has a unique spiritual potential. The job of beis din is far more than arbitrating disputes. Beis din brings out the efficacy and capability of the city by directing each of its citizens to fulfilling his or her unique contribution. Its spiritual direction orchestrates and harmonizes the strengths of its residents. The gates of a city are where people enter and leave. On a practical level, they’re the place where one finds direction. On a deeper level, they’re the place where the Elders of the City sit and give true direction, facilitating each of us in reaching our ruchniyus destiny.
Korach taught us that the mezuzah, like the city gates, represents Torah leadership. Moshe Rabbeinu was Klal Yisrael’s mezuzah. Korach claimed the mezuzah was redundant. The Jewish People were a nation of “seforim,” self-contained and capable of finding their own direction and spiritual destiny without the interference of Torah leaders (see Rabbeinu Bechaye, Bamidbar 16:29, who fully develops this idea).
The earth swallowed up Korach and his contemptible mindset. We’re left with a new understanding of the mezuzah that protects our home. True shalom bayis is found when the Jewish home is anchored in daas Torah. Every generation has its own “Moshe Rabbeinus,” visionaries and leaders who teach us how to build our homes and protect it from the street.
The mezuzah protects us. The mezuzah wakes us up. The mezuzah gives us direction. But it’s up to us to do the building. It’s in our hands to build our reshus hayachid so that it extends to the Heavens. Through toil and determination, love and respect, tears and tefillos, we can turn our bayis into a mikdash me’at, a microcosm of the holy Beis Hamikdash.
In Real Life
Guide to Shidduchim
As single bochurim back in the Yeshivas Mishkan HaTorah days (1980s) most of us did not have parents available to guide us through the labyrinth of the shidduch process. Like a loving father, Rav Moshe was there for us.
Rav Moshe approached a 21-year-old Yanky Minkus (today, Rav Yaakov Minkus, rebbi in Yeshivas Torah Ore in Yerushalayim) and told him to start dating. Yanky was shocked; marriage was the last thing on his mind. Shortly afterward, he received a shidduch suggestion from a married friend.
Rav Moshe was elated to hear this. He said, “A chaver is always the best person to redt a shidduch!”
When the couple got engaged, he met with the kallah and spent 20 minutes giving her chizuk and reassurance. He understood that she, like her chassan, was far from home and needed to feel good about the shidduch.
When Robbie Ukelson (today, Rav Yerachmiel Ukelson, rebbi in Yeshivas Toras Simcha in Yerushalayim) took his future kallah to his rebbi’s home, Rav Moshe delighted the young lady from Finchley with a fascinating insight into her family name, Hart. He surmised that her family originated from Amsterdam (in fact, they moved to London in the time of Cromwell) and had been among those expelled from Spain!
I was in awe of his penetrating insights on my personality when he gave me dating advice. This reassured me that I was in good hands. When I felt ready to propose, I asked him if I was ready. “Menachem, ani choshev shezeh tov, I think it’s good” were the words I will never forget. After that I didn’t think twice. Rav Moshe’s confidence gave me the peace of mind that I was making the right decision.
It’s 34 years later, and baruch Hashem I still have that peace of mind!
In Real Life
The Holy Chuppah
There must have been several Rav Moshes. There is no logical explanation for how, in addition to giving over 30 shiurim a week, Rav Moshe managed to attend the weddings of so many talmidim. For us talmidim, there was a special benefit. If you needed to talk to Rav Moshe, one of the easiest ways was to offer to drive him to a chasunah.
Our second son, Yaakov Yisrael, got married in Beit Shemesh on the same evening that another close talmid made an “out-of-town” wedding. Rav Moshe was forced to choose which wedding he’d attend. He told me, “Don’t think I am coming to your wedding because I favor you over him. I am coming because Yaakov Yisrael is a regular at my Thursday night shiur. So I’m coming for him.”
Our oldest son, Yehuda Michel, asked Rav Moshe, “What should I be thinking on my way to the chuppah?”
“L’chaven ratzon Hashem b’ Brias Ha’olam,” was his response. “To focus on Hashem’s will in creating the world.” You are not just building your home — you are building Hashem’s world. [See Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 1) for a possible deeper understanding of what he was saying].
When another talmid asked the same question, his reply was different: “Think that you are a link in the chain of the mesorah of Klal Yisrael. Moshe received the Torah from Har Sinai and passed it on to Yehoshua. And so on, from generation to generation, until it is passed to you. Now your job is to pass it on to the next generation.”
When Rav Moshe was asked what the chassan and kallah should be thinking of under the chuppah, he replied: “This is a time for tefillah. You are entering the struggle of life. Daven that Hashem helps you live the life you are supposed to live. Ask Him to help you raise children l’tiferes, people who live genuine and truthful lives. Ask for success in everything you want to build together. You can assume that if you daven from the bottom of your hearts, Hashem will listen to your tefillos. Hashem has the middah of shomeia tefillah, He wants to respond positively to your requests.”
Rav Moshe felt that even while they are occupied with their tefillos, the chassan and kallah should behave in a dignified and royal manner under the chuppah.
Should the chassan and kallah daven for others under the chuppah? “No,” Rav Moshe replied to this question. “Now is the time for them to focus on their future home. If the kallah wants to daven for her friends, let her do so earlier in the day.”
What about a trend where single friends looking for a shidduch daven for themselves during the chuppah, sometimes from a pamphlet with tefillos. This is done with the understanding that the chuppah is an eis ratzon, a special time for tefillah. Is this a good hanhagah?
His response was emphatic: “All new minhagim, if our previous generations didn’t do them, it’s a siman that we shouldn’t be doing them. The friends should be focused on the chassan and kallah. Now it’s their time.”
In Real Life
Never a Tirchah
After undergoing a difficult surgery to remove a brain tumor, the first wedding Rav Moshe attended was for the daughter of his talmid, Rav Reuven Lauffer of Ohr Somayach. It was held at a wedding hall in Bayit Vegan, which is accessed through a staircase. Rav Moshe was using a walker, and each step was a painful effort. On arrival at the hall, he “danced” with the family by forming a circle, holding hands, but without any movement. When Reb Reuven accompanied his rebbi back to the street, he was shocked to see that it took Rav Moshe over 15 minutes to descend the stairs. Each step seemed to be more painful than the next.
Rav Reuven profusely apologized. He said if he had known that it would be such an effort, such a tirchah, for the rav he would never have troubled him to come.
To which Rav Moshe replied: “For my kinder it is never a tirchah….”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 590)