Mezuzah Maven

For the week ending 6 January 2018 / 19 Tevet 5778

A Symbol of Faith and Identity

by Rabbi Ze'ev Kraines
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The prominent display of the mezuzah on our doorways is an eternal symbol of Jewish identity on every continent and in every age. Gouged out hollows in the doorways of Vilna, Cordova, Baghdad and other cities around the world wordlessly recount the poignant story of the stops along our people’s arduous journey. Even today, as we drive around our cities, we subconsciously keep a lookout for mezuzot on doorposts as tell-tale signs of Jewish presence.

But our mezuzah is more than merely a display of Jewish identity. It broadcasts our identification with the fundamental beliefs and principles of our people and its historic destiny. Ramban passionately asserts in his classic Torah commentary:

For he who purchases a mezuzah for a small coin, affixes it to his doorway, and contemplates its message has acknowledged the Creation, Divine Providence, and Prophecy. Indeed, he has proclaimed his belief in all aspects of the Torah.

Rabbeinu Bachya adds that one of the meanings of the Divine Name ש-ד-י is that G-d has the power to override the influence of mazal and the laws of nature. Whereas the nations are likely to attribute worldly events to materialistic forces and the whims of fortune, by placing mezuzot on our doorways we proclaim that Gd’s Providence surrounds us and governs our lives directly.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, in his monumental work Horeb, classifies the mitzvah of mezuzah as a “testimony,” a symbolic observance which represents truths that form the basis of Jewish life. It shares this designation with Shabbat and Yom Tov, which continually rejuvenate our connection to our historic mission and our destiny:

The Biblical passages “Shema Yisrael and V’haya im shamo’a should be written on the entrances of every house, thereby hallowing the house (and indeed every place specially set aside for human activities) as an abode where G-d is ever present and where service of G-d is fulfilled, thus testifying that all one’s life, all that one endures, is accomplished through G-d.

The significance of the Jewish doorway as both a portal to our inner life and a broadcaster of our identity to the outside emerges right from the dawn of our history. Indeed, at the first Pesach Seder, way down in Egypt land, G-d commanded that we daub the paschal lamb’s blood on our doorposts and lintels to mark the inviolate sanctuary of the Jewish home. In our times, as well, the inscription of the Divine Name ש-ד-י on the back of the mezuzah parchment indicates that G-d’s presence follows us in all our wanderings. As Talmud Yerushalmi teaches:

The Holy One, Blessed be He, has attached His great Name to Israel. This can be compared to a king who possessed a small key to his palace. He said, “If I leave it as it is, it will be lost. I shall make for it a chain, so that if it is lost, its chain will identify it.” In the same way, G-d said, “If I leave Israel on their own, they will be swallowed up among the nations. Rather, I will attach my great Name to them, and they shall survive!”

  • Sources: Ramban, Shemot 13:16; Kad HaKemach, Mezuzah; Horeb, pp. 59 and 187; Yerushalmi, Pei’ah 2:6

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