Rooted Homes by Dr. Joel M. Berman


The Machzor and Talmud Yerushalmi each speak of a short Tefilah the Kohein Gadol used to say every Yom Kippur while in the Kodesh HaKodashim. The Kohein Gadol would ask of Hashem for the people living in the Sharon region that, “Lo Ya’asu Bateihen Kivreihen,” that their houses should not become their graves (Yoma 5:2 and Sotah 8:7). Rashi explains that the ground in that region was “Adamah Ra’ah,” of poor quality. Indeed, Rav Yosef Adler was once on a tour in Eretz Yisrael. Upon arriving to the Sharon, the tour guide mentioned the Gemara and showed how the soil there was poor for supporting houses; it was dry and windblown, and many tree roots and house foundations were exposed.

The following question arises: as concerned as the Kohein Gadol should have been for Anshei HaSharon, it might seem more appropriate that given this short and rare opportunity to pray to Hashem in the Holy of Holies, he should ask for things of more concern for Klal Yisrael in general, e.g. protection from their ever-present enemies, good crops, or health, instead of concentrating on a single problem of a single group within Klal Yisrael.

I would like to offer an insight into the Kohein Gadol’s Tefilah. There are only two types of trees in Monsey; ask anyone who lives there. There are trees whose roots go straight down and deep, and there are also trees whose roots spread out great distances but fail to achieve any depth. If the ground becomes saturated due to heavy rains, and a windstorm of sufficient force follows the rain, many of the trees whose roots lack depth fall down. However, the trees whose roots run deep in the ground rarely fall.

It is no secret that the tribes that chose to live on the eastern side of the Jordan River during Moshe’s time were the first to disappear during the time of the first Beit HaMikdash. Why is this? I believe that, in some measure, it is because these tribes positioned themselves geographically far from the hotbeds of Yiddishkeit: Gilgal, Shiloh, Yerushalayim, etc. In doing so, they were more exposed to the winds of the Canaanite culture around them. Like some of the trees in Monsey, their roots spread out instead of going deep. When conditions became challenging, they collapsed.

Everyone knows that one of the pillars of stability for any Jewish family is the house. By house, I mean not only the structure itself, but also the atmosphere in the house: the home. Is it Jewish-friendly? Are there Divrei Torah and Zemirot at the Shabbat table? Are there Sefarim in the house? Are the Sefarim used? Do the parents hold Talmidei Chachamim in high esteem? Do the parents follow Da’at Torah as provided by a Rav? I wonder if the people of the Sharon, although located on the western side of the Jordan, still chose to live in an area that was somewhat distanced from Yerushalayim. It is harder to put down deep roots in an area farther away from the sources of Yiddishkeit and containing more exposure to competing ideologies. Keeping this in mind, when the Kohein Gadol prayed to Hashem that the people living in the Sharon region shouldn’t be buried by their houses, he was perhaps beseeching that their very way of life – their very homes – shouldn’t lead to a downfall in future generations. We learn from this that Chinuch HaBanim, [Jewish] education of children, is the very lifeline of Klal Yisrael.

Teshuvah by Yaakov Schiff

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