The Haftorah, a book of Hebrew biblical writings, is not meant for speed reading. Written in concise language with few wasted words, it calls for thoughtful pondering and searching for hidden meanings, within and between the lines.
The page we’re currently ready was straightforward until you are stopped by the passage, “When thou buildest a new house…” A new house? Why the “new?” Why not simply “a house?”
It sounded familiar. Ah yes, the rabbi, on a Saturday morning, celebrating a bar mitzvah, he used the passage as the theme of his sermonette to the young boy.
He too had wondered whether there was a special significance to the “new.” After all, one doesn’t build an old house.
Then the answer came. It was meant to stress while the house had to be new, the foundation need not be. A good foundation could outlast a house and be used again. But it had to be strong, resting on solid ground with no fractures or breaks, and equal to the burden it will carry. A rock to lean upon.
That set me to thinking. Could this premise be applied to the building of life? “When thou buildest a life, look to the foundation.”
Is one’s life laid down on the solid principles of ethical morality? On honesty in labor and intent? On loyalty and just dealings with your fellow humans? On compassion and understanding and tolerance? On goodwill towards humanity?
Does it honor the traditions of its forbearers? Will it withstand the buffeting of the winds of anger, adversity, frustration? Will it bend to corruption or stand firm against temptation? Can you point to it with pride and confidence?
If yes, then build your house, your life.
If no, rebuild your foundation. For upon its strength and integrity will depend the sturdiness and lasting quality of a house, a life, a relationship, a business relationship, and much more.
A good foundation is forever.
I haven’t published one of my grandmother’s invocations in many weeks. Today, pondering the horrific destruction in Texas wrought by Hurricane Harvey, I decided to read the next invocation in her series. It seems appropriate for what’s occurring.
Thousands of Texans, after the floodwaters recess and the wind quiets, will return to what was once their homes. Most of the houses will be firmly attached to their foundations with the fury of the storm being torrential rains rather than ferocious winds. The houses, however, will be deemed unlivable, the furnishings, appliances, flooring, sheet rock, framing, plumbing, and electrical compromised or completely damaged.
It would be necessary to remove everything down to the foundation, and start over, “buildest a new house.”
For many, the task will be insurmountable. The wait for insurance monies to arrive, scheduling of demolition crews, and the lengthy process of building a new house with desperate residents, businesses, and municipalities jockeying for limited building supplies to reconstruct neighborhoods, commercial areas, government buildings, and public areas. These people will, like those who fled Hurricane Katrina, will find another place to call home.
Others will return, determined to remove what the wind blew down or the water destroyed, and slowly rebuild their lives, houses, businesses, and communities.
Whether one leaves or stays, the values, beliefs, and traditions that comprise the foundations of their lives will shape how they respond to the inconceivable challenges and opportunities they face in the coming days, months, and years.
The thousands of citizens from first responders to neighbors, and Cajun Navy, who’ve rushed to help during Hurricane Harvey will hopefully provide the optimism and support those impacted need to bolster and reinforce the foundations of theirs and their families’ lives.