The Power of the Home

In probably the most popular “blessing” Bilam ends up giving to the Jewish people, he observes: “Ma Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov”, ‘How good are your tents, Jacob’. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 105b) describes how the blessings Bilam ultimately gave actually reflect on how he tried to curse the Jewish people, before Hashem intervened.

When it came to this blessing, they explain, the curse he attempted to give was the destruction of our Synagogues and Study Halls. Instead of destroying them, he ended up blessing our tents. But why would it not, therefore, bless the study halls and Synagogues? The word “ohel” connotes one’s home- not a communal gathering of any kind! (Rashi actually explains that it refers to the privacy each home guaranteed, by making sure the doorways could not see other doorways.)

Building off an idea from Rav Moshe Feinstein who similarly addressed this verse, we can explain as follows: While it is true that our communal worship and education are what provide us religious guidance, what creates a lasting impact on our lives is what we do in our homes. No matter how much one learns in school, no matter how much one prays at shul, if the values of Judaism aren’t reinforced by the home, then the education won’t endure.

Going to a class is wonderful. Attending minyan service as often as possible is commendable. But the work doesn’t stop there. To truly receive the blessing of our prospering study halls and Synagogues, we must ensure that their ideals are consistently present in our homes as well. That is where the true blessing lies, in ‘your tents, Jacob’.