“His home – that is his wife,”

Thursday, 30 April, 2015 - 4:02 pm


Dear Friends,


My colleague and friend, Rabbi Nechemia Wilhelm, of the Chabad House in Bangkok, Thailand, has been chosen to be one of three recipients of the Jerusalem Unity Prize. This is a prize that was inaugurated by the Jerusalem Municipality in memory of the three boys – Naftali Frankel, Gil-Ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, Hy”d. The prize of NIS 100,000 is being awarded to people who work to further the unity of the Jewish People.

There is no doubt that this is a good choice: Rabbi Nechemia and the Chabad House in Bangkok are the place where the Jewish People shine in all their glory, their mutual love and their unity, in spite of their lack of uniformity – just like we all felt during the three weeks of waiting almost a year ago (how time flies…), after the kidnapping had become known.

In a message that Rabbi Nechemia posted on Facebook after finding out that he had been awarded the prize, he wrote (among other things): “The prize is for my wife and our dear children!” What a beautiful sentiment! I was particularly moved by it because it is so closely connected to the Parasha we will read this week (outside of Eretz Yisrael), Parashat Acharei-Mot Kedoshim:

At the beginning of the Parasha the Torah teaches us about the Avodah (service) of the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) on Yom Kippur, about his changing clothes from the “golden” ones (the ornate outfit he ordinarily wore) to a simple white garment, his immersing in a Mikveh, and of course, that all-important prayer in the Kodesh Hakodashim, the holiest place in the Beit Hamikdash. The verse says that in doing all these things “he will atone for himself and for his home and for all the community of Israel.” “His home – that is his wife,” say our Sages about this phrase, in Mashechet (Tractate) Yoma. Really? Yes. On Yom Kippur, at the most sublime moment of his mission for the entire nation, when he is coming to atone for everybody, he starts with “his home – that is his wife.”

Moreover, when he completes the tasks of that holy day, he must go home immediately, as the Rambam says, “He is accompanied to his home. And he would make a Yom Tov for his friends when he came out safely from the holy [place].”

Why this contrast? One moment he is immersing himself, and dressing himself in the golden or white clothes, and being completely holy and above this world – he enters the Kodesh Hakodashim in a state of maximum holiness and purity – and the next moment he is supposed to focus on his personal, material life: his wife and home, who symbolize the private home and all the usual material needs of a human being such as food, drink and sleep.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, the one who sent Rabbi Nechemia to Bangkok, explains: This conduct of the Cohen on Yom Kippur does not constitute a contrast, but rather it is a magical integration that expresses the goal of a Jew’s service to his Creator. True, there is sublime holiness: entering the holiest place on earth, on the holiest day of the year, and at the holiest time – the hour of Ne’ilah. But the goal of the entering is not to stay in this state of retirement from the world, not to remain “holy”, but to make use of that sublime holiness within the material world.

To be holy at home, too, and not only in the Beit Knesset (synagogue); to consecrate and purify daily life.

Therefore, immediately upon completing the Yom Kippur Avodah, the Cohen Gadol goes back home, thus expressing the integration of spiritual elevation and materiality, holiness and everyday life, Kodesh Hakodashim and the Cohen’s private abode.

That is the reason that Rabbi Nechemia mentioned his wife and children immediately upon hearing the good news about the prize – because he knows the value of the magical integration of the Beit Chabad kitchen and his private one, a class given to a group and a story he tells his child, the group and the individual; because only after “and he will atone for himself and for his home” can he atone “for all the community of Israel” as well.



Shabbat Shalom,


Zalmen Wishedski

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