By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
The Torah conveys to us the importance of formally dedicating one’s new home by exempting from army service those who had recently purchased a home but had not yet dedicated it. As we will see, this ceremony is much more than merely hanging one’s first Mezuza, although that is essential as well. One is advised to purchase a home at one’s earliest opportunity, though owning a home is not truly an obligation. The meal one holds in honor of a new home is considered to be a seudat mitzva, comparable to a meal held in honor of a wedding or brit. One does not make a Chanukat Habayit in honor of a home one is renting.
The acquisition of a home is a tremendous achievement that not everyone merits to enjoy. The Torah teaches us that a home is intended to serve as a base for one’s spiritual growth and performance of mitzvot. In fact, there are quite a number of the Torah’s mitzvot that are dependant upon owning a home, such as the mitzva of placing a Mezuza on one’s doorposts,and welcoming guests. In ancient times, idolaters would dedicate their homes to their idols. In order to respond to this phenomenon accordingly we dedicate our homes to God and mitzvot. It is on this premise that purchasing a home is a goal which one should aspire for and an elaborate dedication ceremony is in order.
The central ceremony in the Chanukat Habayit ceremony is the seuda, the elaborate feast which serves as the first public gathering, to be enjoyed with friends, in one’s new home. Purchasing a home is always a long and exhausting journey and the seudat Chanukat Habayit which comes at the conclusion of this process is intended to bring with it a sense of completion and peace. Indeed, the Chanukat Habayit ceremony which follows the hard work of setting up a home is compared to God having rested on Shabbat after having set up of the world. As a person’s home is intended to serve as a dwelling place for God, and as such, is a true miniature Beit Hamikdash. The Chanukat Habayit of one’s home is also associated with and intended to mirror the Chanukat Habayit that was celebrated upon the completion of the Beit Hamikdash. The seuda is also considered to be a meal of thanksgiving for the newly attained opportunity to perform the many more mitzvot that owning a home allows one to fulfill. One must be careful to ensure that the Chanukat Habayit is much more than just a party. We are instructed to ensure that the primary focus of the event is words of Torah, thanksgiving to God, and dedication to mitzvot. When done in this way, the seuda is considered to be a great mitzva. One should recite the blessing of “Shehecheyanu” at one’s Chanukat Habayit.
All of the above generally only refers to the purchase of a home in the Land of Israel. Considering that the goal of every Jew must be to eventually settle in the Land of Israel there can inherently be no mitzva in purchasing a home and establishing roots in the Diaspora. One is even permitted to violate Shabbat in order to purchase a home in the Land of Israel. Nevertheless, it is certainly in order to invite one’s friends to enjoy a meal in honor of purchasing a new home even in the Diaspora. That being said, a Chanukat Habayit ceremony in the Diaspora does not qualify as a mitzva in the classical sense of the word, though some authorities insist it does. It is interesting to note that any meal for any occasion which is intended to show appreciation to God and that is accompanied by words of Torah in honor of the event is considered to be a seudat mitzva. So too, any meal in which one is joined by a Torah scholar is considered a seudat mitzva as well.
When purchasing and moving into a home anywhere, we should be sure to bear in mind the teaching to secure for oneself good neighbors. We are also taught that a change in one’s residence often makes for a positive change in one’s luck. The first items one should bring into a new home are holy books and a charity box – even if it they cannot yet be unpacked! Finally, there are collections of prayers and readings which are appropriate for the Chanukat Habayit ceremony. According to the Chida, who wrote an entire book on this subject, one is to recite all the Mishnayot of Berachot, Beitza, and Tamid as well as excerpts from the Zohar, Gemara, and Rambam in the presence of a minyan as part of the Chanukat Habayit ceremony.