Ask The Rabbi

The Color of HeavenArtscroll

 


March 11, 1995 
 Issue #59 

 This edition Mezuzah - Which Way is UP?? 
 contains: This Week's Riddle 



S. Aaron Skiles CDT from West Point USMA wrote:

What is the meaning behind placing the mezuzah in the doorway at a slant or angle? Is it always done that way, or can it be placed upright and vertical?

Dear S. Aaron,

The Gemara says that a mezuzah attached in a way that looks like a "nagar" is invalid. Rashi defines "nagar" as a sideways bolt. According to this, a mezuzah placed sideways would be invalid. Rather, one should place it straight up and down, so that someone walking in could read it.

Rabbenu Tam disagrees. He defines "Nagar" as a vertical bolt. He writes that placing a mezuzah upright would be disrespectful, comparable to burying a person in a standing position. Rather, the mezuzah should be placed like the Tablets were placed in the Holy Ark -- horizontally.

The Shulchan Aruch rules according to the opinion of Rashi -- that the mezuzah should be placed vertically. This is the accepted Sefardic practice and this is also the ruling of the Vilna Gaon.

The Rama, however, cites the opinion of Rabbenu Tam, that a vertical mezuzah is invalid. Taking this opinion into consideration, he states that the best way is to put the mezuzah on a slant, with the word "Shma" towards the inside. Since the mezuzah is neither vertical nor horizontal, it is valid according to both opinions.

I once heard a beautiful explanation of the symbolism of the slanting mezuzah: The mezuzah is placed on the door of the house - the house being the abode of husband and wife. The slanting mezuzah "teaches" every couple how to create "Shalom Bayit" - tranquillity in the home. Each one should be prepared to compromise and "bend towards the other" in helping to lead a harmonious family life.

Speaking of Shalom Bayit, did you hear about the newlywed who surprised his wife on Friday night by bringing home a guest for the Shabbat meal. "We only have enough food for one serving," his wife whispered. "Whatever you do, don't offer him a second helping." After the main course, however, the husband asked the guest if he wanted seconds. "Sure!" said the guest. "Well...er...on second thought, no thank you."

"How could you do that!?!?" said the wife after the guest had left. "I told you not to offer seconds!" "Ooh! I forgot!" said the husband.

"But didn't you feel me kicking you under the table?" asked the wife.

"It wasn't ME you were kicking..."

Sources:

  • Menachot 33a, Rashi & Tosefot & Rosh.
  • Yoreh De'ah 289:6 Pitchei Teshuva 9.
  • Aruch Hashulchan 289:17,18.

This Week's Riddle

Which mitzvah comes only as a result of lack of intent on the part of the doer or someone acting on his behalf?

Hint: The answer is not the mitzvah of returning a lost object, since the mitzvah comes about for the finder as a result of lack of intent of a different person, i.e., the loser;

Also, the answer is not the mitzvah of bringing a Chatat - sin-offering - e.g., as atonement for an "unintentional" transgression of Shabbat, since the person did intend to do the action, although forgot that the action was forbidden on Shabbat, or forgot that the day was Shabbat.

Answer next week...

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