Civilization built upon civilization. Layers upon layers of the remains of people. Why is it that throughout history people have continued to inhabit the same geographic spaces? An earthquake destroys a city and the city is rebuilt. A neighboring tribe tears down protective walls and burns the homes, and the walls and homes are reconstructed. Certainly some causality can be ascribed to the fact that cities tend to be built in locations conducive to survival — near water, strategically elevated, etc. However, a large part of the answer has to do with the fact that “there is no place like home.”
I moved away from Northeastern Oklahoma twenty-five years ago. But it is still home. When I make the trip back to be with family and friends I can physically feel the tension release its hold on my body as I enter the familiar spaces of my childhood. In the last year I lost my mother and oldest brother to death. My father’s mental condition has deteriorated to the point that when I talk with him on the phone I am not sure that he knows who I am. Even as I write these words the cherished possessions of my parents are being prepared for an estate sale and my childhood home is being sold. The school from which I graduated has closed and the city of my youth has been all but wiped from the face of the earth due to a tornado and environmental pollution. My childhood friends have scattered to distant locations; Houston, Dallas, Kansas City, and beyond. And yet, it is the place that I still think of as “home”.
Why? Why are people so inextricably tied to their place of birth?
The rabbis said that God gives grace to a place in the eyes of its inhabitants. Consider the following story drawn from the Talmud;
A Sophist said to the Emperor Diocletian that no man could be happy except in the place of birth; the same is true, he said, of animals. To substantiate his words, he sent marked stags to Phrygia, and after a few years they returned.
Rabbi Simeon ben Kakish was studying on a porch in Tiberias and he heard two women passers-by say: “How happy we are to leave this accursed climate.” Interested, he asked them whence they had come and whither they were going. “We came from Mazega and we are returning,” they said. Rabbi Simeon turned to his Disciples and remarked: “I was once in Mazega and found the climate there abominable. Yet the natives are convinced it is the very best of places. Blessed is God who giveth grace to a place in the eyes of its inhabitants.”
(Bereshit Rabbah, 34)