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Mezuzah like a compass

Friday, 3 August, 2018 - 9:43 am


It was a few years ago, on Chanuka. She was looking for a menorah and for candles. She had been living here for years already, but only now, when her eight-year-old daughter had asked for a Christmas tree, she had decided the time had come, and had come to ask for a menorah.

As she was leaving, I placed my hand on the mezuzah and asked her: “Do you know what this is?” “It’s a mezuzah,” she replied, “but in our family we don’t put up mezuzahs,” immediately going on to explain: “Rabbi, please understand. My grandmother was in the camps and after she was saved and had a family she said to us: Do everything to hide your identity, so that if they come again, they won’t identify you as Jews.” “If that is so,” I said, “I have a question to ask you: If Hitler (May his name be blotted out) were to meet both of us, who would please him more? I, who am fearlessly proud of my Judaism, or you, who four generations later is still afraid of him?”

In the evening I received an email: “Rabbi, I have nine doorways. When can you come?”

The mitzvah of the mezuzah is given us this week in parashat Eikev. It is an easy mitzvah to perform, perhaps one of the easiest. All you have to do is affix a mezuzah to the doorpost and that’s it; almost no more work involved. It says in the Shulchan Aruch that one should place one’s hand on the mezuzah when one goes out or comes in. As is known, some have the custom of kissing the mezuzah lovingly. Apart from that nothing more has to be done – not even a daily blessing to make. Tefillin, for instance, must be donned every day, a blessing is made on them and one should pray while wearing them. In order to fulfil the mitzvah of tzitzit,a person must make a blessing “al mitzvat tzitzit” every morning, and, of course, wear a tallit katan (a garment with the tzitzit), even on hot summer days.

But still, the mezuzah conveys several significant messages that are not part of other mitzvahs.

A house that has a mezuzah on its doorpost is making a clear statement: The dwellers of this house are proud Jews; they are unafraid. In the doorway of this house there is a piece of parchment on which it is written: “Shema Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One.”

Moreover, tefillin or tzitzit, and other mitzvahs as well, are internally-oriented mitzvahs, an act between a person and his/her Creator. The point of the mezuzah, though, is to be affixed to the doorpost on the outside. It is there in order to remind a person of G-d even when he ventures into to the outside world. The Rambam says that the mezuzah in the doorway is like a compass, helping us not to lose our way, on condition, of course, that we take the trouble to look at it and consult with it. When we meet Hashem’s Name every time we enter or exit our home, it should cause us to “awake from our sleep and from our being lost in the inanities of the times.”


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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