Mezuzah Maven

For the week ending 9 September 2017 / 18 Elul 5777

D.I.Y. Mezuzah?

by Rabbi Ze'ev Kraines
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Before you run off to Home Depot for some parchment, ink, and quills, you might want to consider a few pesky details about writing your own mezuzot.

Some authorities assert that the writing of a mezuzah is part of the mitzvah. From that perspective one might be tempted to say: “It is a greater mitzvah to perform a mitzvah by oneself than to appoint an agent to do it for him.” However, even these authorities agree that the main mitzvah is fulfilled later, at the moment of placement, or by the fact that the mezuzah is there. Consequently, by your involvement in affixing the mezuzah by yourself, you would still have a chunk of the “greater mitzvah.”

Don’t underestimate the complexity of the writing process. The hardest part about learning to be a sofer (scribe) is not the mastery of its unique calligraphy, but rather becoming expert in the thousands of laws that apply to mezuzot and all the other texts written on parchment.

Although one does not have to be a rabbi to practice as a sofer, he must undergo rigorous training and, in modern times, is tested and apprenticed in order to be certified by regulatory bodies. A sofer must be a G-d-fearing and pious person. A mezuzah, and especially its Divine names, must be written with utmost purity and intention. It is therefore customary that the sofer immerse himself in a mikveh (ritual pool) before beginning his work.

Moreover, the Talmud accentuates the great responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the sofer entrusted with this spiritually powerful mitzvah:

Rabbi Meir (reported)… When I learned with Rabbi Yishmael, he said to me, “My son, what is your profession?” I said, “I am a scribe.” He said to me, “My son, be careful, as your work is the work of Heaven, for if you leave out one letter or add one letter, it is as though you have destroyed the whole world.”

Skillful calligraphy is also a consideration, as the Torah enjoins us to beautify the mitzvot we perform. Even if you are a talented amateur it is unlikely that your writing will be as pleasing as that of a trained professional, and some authorities opine that affixing a beautifully written mezuzah may take precedence over the value of your personal involvement in the writing.

You may have seen that at a celebration marking the completion of a Torah scroll, several letters are left over to be filled in by those present so that this may give them a part in the mitzvah of writing the Torah. But we do not find that the last letters of a mezuzah are left over for the buyer, possibly because of the risk of the layman making an error that will be difficult to fix or due to other considerations.

So, it may be a “greater mitzvah” for you to rush out to Home Depot for a hammer and some nails for those shelves that you have been promising your wife you would put up “mañana.

  • Sources: Kidushin 41a, Sotah 20a, Agur B’Ohaleha 2:8

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