Mezuzah Maven

For the week ending 25 November 2017 / 7 Kislev 5778

What's in a Name?

by Rabbi Ze'ev Kraines
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Three Hebrew letters peek out from the back of a mezuzah scroll, casting a spiritual aura on the room. שד-י (Shin, Dalet, Yud). Sha-dai, pronounced in common speech as Shakai to avoid “overfamiliarity”, is one of the Divine Names found in several verses of the Torah. Because nothing may be added to the prescribed verses written on the front side, it is inscribed on the back of the parchment. The Zohar teaches that the placement of the Name on the back symbolizes that G-d guards us from all sides. It also states that negative spiritual energies (mazikin) are repelled by the spiritual force emanating from the mezuzah and the Name.

This Divine Name symbolizes the power of the mezuzah to embrace a Jewish home with G-d’s presence and protection. The classical Torah commentaries interpret this Name in a variety of interesting ways, all of which shed light on its relevance to mezuzah.

Using this Name, G-d introduces himself to Avraham (then still called Avram) when he commands him regarding the covenant of Brit Milah (circumcision):

“And Avram was ninety-nine years old, and G-d appeared to Avram, and He said to him, 'I am Ei-l Sha-dai; walk before Me and be perfect. And I will place My covenant between Me and between you, and I will multiply you very greatly.'” (Genesis 17:1-2)

Rashi paraphrases G-d’s words in this way: “I am He Whose Gdliness suffices for every creature (sheh = that, dai = is sufficient). Therefore, walk before Me, and I will be your G-d and your Protector.” Similarly, that same Name, emblazoned on our mezuzah scrolls, broadcasts its message of Divine care and protection into the homes of Avraham’s grandchildren.

Others interpret this “sufficiency” in another way. They say that the Name symbolizes that we should be satisfied with the material possessions within our homes.

In contrast, the great Torah commentator Ramban asserts that this Name derives from a Hebrew word meaning “conquest.” He explains that G-d is assuring Avraham that He has the power to overcome the constraints of natural law and will bless him and Sarah with children in their old age. This supernatural event is symbolic of G-d’s covenantal promise to Avraham’s descendants that He will involve Himself with their destiny and not abandon them to the natural rise and fall of nations. Similarly, the Name on our mezuzot proclaims that one who enters a Jewish abode is stepping into a unique space of direct Divine Providence where small miracles are the norm.

Interestingly, we also form these same three letters when wrapping ourselves in tefillin. The letter shin is pinched into the leather of the head tefillin and wrapped on the back of our hand. The dalet is wound around our palm and knotted into our head straps at the nape of the neck. The knot touching the arm tefillin is a yud.

It is preferable to purchase transparent mezuzah covers, or at least ones that have a small plastic or glass “window” through which the Name is visible. This window is important, as it protects the Name from being erased over time by touching.

However, opaque covers are required in rooms where people are unclothed or near where diapers are changed. Opaque covers also offer better protection for outdoor mezuzot exposed to direct sunlight. The letter Shin is inscribed on opaque covers to hint that the full Name is hidden within.

Considering all of these themes, it is no wonder that the letters also allude to the assurance: “Shomer Dirat Yisrael” — The Guardian of the Dwelling of Israel.

  • Sources: Zohar, Va’etchanan 266, cited in Beit Yosef 288:14; Sefer HaChareidim 66:127; Rema Y.D. 288:15; Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 286:5; Prishah Y.D. 288:16, citing Kol Bo

Got a mezuzah question or story? Email rabbi@ohrsandton.com or submit on my website mymezuzahstory.com

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