Shabbat Ki Tavo: You’ll Know Home When You Get There

Wherever I go I am going toward Jerusalem – Rabbi Nakhman of Bratslav, who never saw Israel

The spiritual path of the Jews – and those who love them and travel with them – can be seen as a path of homelessness. From the days of the ivri, the one who crossed over the river from the land between the Tigris and Euphrates, the Hebrews – ivri’im – were and are those who came from elsewhere. The Torah is the story of an ancient wandering, minimized only by the ensuing Jewish Exile of two millennia. 

We are a people who derives our spiritual meaning from the longing for home that only the homeless wanderer feels. For this reason our Torah bids us consider the situation and even the feelings of the stranger, the wanderer among us, an obligation repeated no less than 36 times. 

In our parashat hashavua, the Torah reading for this week, we see words we have dreamed of: “When you come home”:

וְהָיָה֙ כִּֽי־תָב֣וֹא אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖ נַחֲלָ֑ה וִֽירִשְׁתָּ֖הּ וְיָשַׁ֥בְתָּ בָּֽהּ

There will be a time when you will come into the land that is there place of your nakhalah, and your soul knows it is home, and you settle down in it and are at home there (Devarim 26.1)

The question we are left with is this: what is that nakhalah, the place your soul knows is home? 

What is a nakhalah? The word is often translated as “inheritance,” but in Hebrew usage it’s more complicated than that. For example, an old Jewish saying is אין אדם נוחל עולם הבא אלא מתוך חיי צער – “one earns one’s nakhalah, one’s place in the world, only through the suffering of experience.” Why should you have to earn what you are to inherit?

This week’s parashah indicates that until you can reap sustenance from a place or a situation and share it, it is not – yet – your home, even though it may be yours in name or title. Until you are able to share sustenance, you are not sated; unless you are able to share shelter, you are not safe. 

The opposite may very well also be true: that place in which we are safe in shared community is home, even if it is on the wanderer’s path. Rabbi Nakhman of Bratslav never made it to Jerusalem in his lifetime, though he longed to go there; finally he learned, and was able to teach, that being a wanderer seeking Jerusalem was in itself a sort of homecoming.

Where is home, and how shall one know it? Those who know that wandering is a necessary condition for spiritual exploration resonate with these lines of T. S. Eliot’s:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time. 

On this Shabbat may you, wanderer, find consolation in the path of your footsteps, and come to know the you are always headed home despite – because of – your wandering.

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