The Four Corners
Sitting next to my father at synagogue in Medford so many years ago is one of my strongest memories of being Jewish as a child. I mostly remember the feel and smell of his suit jackets and idly fiddling with the fringes on his tallit as the Cantor sang on the bimah, just a few feet away from us. Other memories include walking up the winding hill to our home and probably most clear and most dear, coming home at the conclusion of the holiday and our dad pouring a bit of honey on his finger and then putting a dab on the four corners of our home.
Fast forward to years later, when I had a family of my own and my parents would observe Yom Kippur with us. More often than not, they would go to my brother's synagogue in town, and when they returned after dark, my father would insist of dotting honey in the corners of our home; one dab on the yellow kitchen wall, one dab on the beige office wall, one dab behind his stained glass work in the sun room and one final dab behind the umbrella stand in the corner of the front hall.
Dad never explained the custom to me, but the very act became part of my own practice.
Our father has now been gone for seven years, so it was at least eight years since he last added sweetness to our home, but the first thing that I do after the Yom Kippur fast is complete is to dab honey for a sweet year to come. As I sat on the front porch on Yom Kippur and thought of my parents, there was that moment of something that crystallized to more than memory; there was a moment when I could hear the cadence and rhythm of my father's walk, could visualize his short frame in his suit, with his tie askew, making sure that we knew what to do and how to do it. With this action, he was an emissary of sweetness. There is no better way to institute a custom than doing it and modeling it so that it becomes part of the fabric of holiday observance.
For so many years I was in the field of Jewish education and I do not recall sharing this particular custom with my students or the parents in our school. One of my most important jobs was to encourage practice. What a missed opportunity! Something so small as dotting the corners of one's home with honey so that one's children see the sweetness applied to the walls. So easy, so memorable and so doable and I neglected to teach it.
It is never too late to teach though, so I write about this now. When I posted about this practice last night, to my surprise I found that no one else, with the exception of my cousins, (to my knowledge and within my own circle of acquaintances) has this same practice. I added it to the Facebook group for children of Holocaust survivors and have yet to receive a reply from someone else doing the same thing. I am certain that this practice did indeed exist and before long I will discover others, perhaps from my father's area in Poland who also had this particular custom. When I Googled the practice I did find one reference to it in Russia in 1864 in a scholarly book titled, Everyday Jewish Life in Imperial Russia, edited by Chareran Y. Freeze and Jay M. Harris. I am continuing to search as to where this practice originated. If I find out more, I will be happy to share more information here, but for now, in my father's memory and as someone who loves to share practices, this is a keeper. Before Shabbat tonight or before the joyous holiday of Sukkot begins or during Sukkot, perhaps you will add this to your practice as well and then in turn, to your children's and grandchildren's practice.
May your year as sweet as honey. May the four corners of your dwelling exude sweetness and chesed.
"Mah Tovu Ohalechah, Yaakov. How good are your tents, O Jacob."