At the end of a long day, there is no greater joy than sitting down on the living room couch, grabbing the remote control, and clicking over to HGTV, tuning into the latest episode of House Hunters. House Hunters is an incredible show that has been on air since 1999. Now if the classic House Hunters is not available, one can always watch House Hunters International, House Hunters Renovation, or even Tiny House Hunters.
The premise of the show is this: someone—an individual, a couple, a family—is looking to buy a new home. Sometimes it is their first home together; sometimes the family needs a bigger space. Whatever the case, House Hunters is reality television perfected. In thirty-minutes, the viewer is introduced to the home buyer, to the real estate agent, and to their search location. Over the next twenty minutes, the home buyers (and by way of remote voyeurism, the viewer as well) tour three homes. They make comments throughout. They love the open floor plan, he was hoping for something with more of a Victorian and less of a Colonial feel, or that bathroom certainly needs to be remodeled right away. Then at the close of the show, the home buyers choose: Three houses, one vote. At the end of every episode, they choose the best house.
As a viewer, the climax of the show is finding out which they chose. For the viewer, there are no consequences. We get to choose, and should the buyers’ selection not align with ours, we get to criticize their choice freely and openly in the security of our own living room.
House Hunters is reality television. It is staged. An article on the show published last year told about how, in truth, the buyers have already selected a home. The one they vote on is already held in escrow, and the other two homes are stand-ins.
When Liz and I were buying our home here, we applied to be on House Hunters. We were accepted to be on the show. They confirmed with us. But, given the busyness of our move, new jobs, et cetera, we declined the offer.
House Hunters is the ultimate in reality television because it is pure fantasy. Three homes, one vote, no consequences. Yet, those of us who have made the shift from home buyers to home owners know that in the real world, you only have the home you have. Once you cast your vote for it, you own it, and you are responsible for it. Responsible home ownership means that if something breaks, you fix it. If you want better curb appeal, or if you want to be a better neighbor, then you take care of what you need to take care of. Home ownership is a constant expression of living responsibly.
Reality television transports us to a fantasy space that mimics elements of the real world. But it is not the real world. In the real world, we are part of the fortunate class if we end up buying our own home. In the real world, we only get one vote.
In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, Moses communicates a similar message. In his final address to the Israelites, Moses tells them about what is really important as they settle their new home. Namely, they are now responsible for it. They are to settle there, create community for themselves, and become a people: “Moses and the levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying: Silence! Hear, O Israel! Today you have become the people of the Eternal your God: Heed the Eternal your God and observe God’s commandments and God’s laws, which I enjoin upon you this day.”
When the Israelites settle the land, not only do they become home buyers, they become an Am, a people, responsible for that home. They settle into their new home, accepting responsibility for it—“Na’asei v’nishma,” the People have already declared, “All that you ask us to do, we will do it (we will take responsibility for it) and we will come to understand it.”
Embracing that responsibility is the challenge. Later in the book of Judges, we read a cycle of stories that exemplify just how challenging it is to maintain our sense of responsibility. The cycle is this: There is peace in the land, then the Israelites begin to transgress. It vexes God. And so, the Israelites are introduced to a shofet, a judge, or better translated, a deliverer, who helps the Israelite people remember to whom their obligations lie. The Israelites come back to a place of piety, and the land is peaceful yet again. After become successful home buyers, the Israelites need to be taught the value of responsibility. They only get one house, and they need to constantly vote for it. They need to constantly choose their home.
Friends, so do we. Living in a democracy means that our house is ours. We are the home buyers and we are the home owners. And each of us only gets one vote.
As we approach this election, there is much to say about the candidates. And when we vote, we choose between them. We will vote for him or for her. Those are our options. Nonetheless, voting is not an act of fielty to a particular candidate. By voting we do not make some pledge to the candidate to follow him blindly. By voting we do not promise to accept her word outright. Rather, our vote is an expression of our responsibility as those who own our own home, as those who are citizens of our own country.
Moses reminds the people that as they are coming into their own land, they have a responsibility to uphold the laws and precepts given to them. That is how they care for themselves and care for the home they have been given. In this election season, we are similarly called. We have a civic responsibility to cast our one vote. Otherwise, we abdicate our power, consequently shifting our role from engaged citizen to something not too far from being voyeurs of reality television. If you have not yet registered to vote, voter registration cards are available in the Hevreh lobby, or you can click here.
Next week, we read Parashat N’tzavim. We will read this portion again on Yom Kippur morning. There, Moses says to the Israelites: “You stand here today, all of you, before the Eternal your God. The tribal leaders, your elders and your officials, every person of Israel, our children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to waterdrawer.”
Everyone is standing together. The Israelites are together. And the Israelites are instructed to continue to remain together, as we enter the land, as we become home owners.
We each have a responsibility to maintain the house we keep. Last week, the Berkshire Eagle published a cartoon that showed two people having a debate. Between the two of them was a globe and a newspaper. The newspaper showed a headline that read “Trump Wins!” The caption on the cartoon asked, “So which looks better, Canada or Denmark?” No matter which candidate we support, when we make that joke, we abdicate our responsibility. We shift from owner to voyeur. From reality to fantasy. And we need to live in the real world, not reality television. We are not on House Hunters where we can say, “Which house looks better?” Will we pick the large, tranquil country just north of us, the friendly European destination, or the solid fixer-upper that is our own back yard? Canada and Denmark are not options. This is not House Hunters. We do not choose from multiple houses. We continually vote for the house we want to live in. We already own this one. Leaving is not the solution. Voting is.
Voting is a values statement. It is choosing the sort of home we want to live in, by actively and constantly choosing that same home over and over again, until it better reflects the one in which we are proud to live. We do not vote for candidates, we vote for our values and for our home.
If you have not already registered, please do. If your friends and family have not yet registered, please make sure that they do. If you or your friends or your family are going to sit this election out, do not. Go vote. We only get this house, and we have to show that we are responsible for it.