Some friends of ours bought a beautiful home a few years ago in the San Fernando Valley in California. The house was so lovely that there were a dozen or so bids on it even before a sign was out. My friend told me that after they placed the bid she went home and said a little prayer:

"God, we really want this house. We want this house not just for our own use, but also to have a comfortable place to welcome guests, to host classes and to share Shabbat with anyone who would like to experience it with us. If any of these other people can use this house for more good than we can, then give it them. Otherwise, please give it to us."

Our friends got the house, and I don't think it's mere coincidence.

Now, think about the message this prayer sent to her children: "We want a house because we'll be able to do more good with it than we presently can with what we have."

THE PROVERBIAL CASTLE

Our homes are our castles.

But what types of castles are they? What are we teaching our children through the way we use them? Are we busy decorating them in such a fashion that we are hesitant to actually use them for fear of wear and tear? Are our homes only for ourselves and our own comfort, or are we using them as a training ground for important lessons we want to teach our children?

Home is a place where we want to be able to retreat from the hassles and stresses of everyday life and refresh ourselves.

Home is a place where we want to be able to retreat from the hassles and stresses of everyday life and refresh ourselves. We all need a place to shut ourselves off from the world and recharge our batteries. But a home also has another purpose.

Each home is a building block of the community. Home is a place where we can share our bounty and ourselves with those in need. Home is place where much good can be done.

THE MEANING OF SHARING

Last year I asked a family if they could host some guests coming from out of town for a friend's Bar Mitzvah. They have a beautiful home with 4 nice-size bedrooms and three children. Each child has his or her own room. The mother declined, saying she is sorry, but she has no guest room. I don't think it ever occurred to her that perhaps her children could double up for a few nights.

I know a family whose kids share rooms so they can host strangers coming into town for medical treatment.

I know another family in Los Angeles with a guest room which is constantly in use. Their kids share rooms because it is important for them to have a guest room. They use this room to host people who come to Los Angeles for medical treatment and often have to be here with family members for extended stays. These people are usually total strangers.

How does this family's kids feel about their home being used for such a purpose? Do they feel that their home is it constantly being invaded by strangers who infringe upon their space and privacy?

Not at all. To these children, it is perfectly normal. Their parents take pleasure in the fact that they can offer a small measure of comfort to people going through a very difficult time.

HOME AS TEACHING TOOL

How can we use our homes to teach our children some vital lessons?

  1. Our homes can be used to teach our children about communal responsibility.

Do you want your kids to be activists or couch potatoes? Host a fundraiser for your school, synagogue or other worthy cause. If you are involved in an organization, volunteer your home for meetings so your children can see what it means to get involved and take responsibility. Have them help you with preparations, putting out refreshments, setting up chairs or copying materials needed for the meeting. They can't always see what you do outside of home, so bring some of your activities to them.

  1. Our homes can be used to teach our children about hospitality.

How do we greet a guest to make him feel most welcome? One person I know has her children make up a little basket of goodies like they have in a hotel to put in the guest's room with some fruits, nuts candies and juice boxes. Expect and encourage your children to double up if you have guests coming and give them plenty of praise for helping to make others comfortable in your home.

  1. Our homes can be used to teach our children about caring for others.

Invite somebody over who could use some good old TLC, such as an elderly neighbor, recently-divorced friend, or someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one. Think of ways you and your family can provide a few hours pleasure for this person.

  1. Our homes can be used to expose our children to valuable extra-curricular learning.

Our tradition tells us that we should make our homes a meeting place for the Sages. [See Ethics of our Fathers.] We want to expose ourselves and our children to those who have wisdom. Look for opportunities to host local speakers or guest lecturers from out of town. Put together a lecture series at your home. Think of who you would like to have teaching in your home that you would like your children to be exposed to.

There are so many things a home can be used for. The more we understand what it is we want to teach our children, the more we can use our homes well.