Mezuzah: A new look at an old Mitzvah
Pity the poor mezuzah. Everyone acknowledges its importance, and almost everyone ignores its essential message.
More than any other mitzvah, the mezuzah is a study in paradox: it is widely observed and just as widely neglected.
Consider: rare is the Jewish home — even a non religious home — that does not display a mezuzah, at the very least on its front door. And yet, although we may pass beneath a mezuzah dozens of times each day, more often than not we breeze right past it without giving it a second thought, even when we perfunctorily reach out a hand to touch it and kiss it.
The purpose of this essay is to help us give the mezuzah some second thoughts. Maybe even third thoughts…
AN ONGOING REMINDER
Somehow, many of us have the mistaken notion that once we affix the mezuzah to the doorpost we have fully performed the mitzvah. But that is only partially true. Unlike most other mitzvos, the mezuzah is designed to be a steady, ongoing, never-ending reminder of the very existence of God. Rambam puts it succinctly in his last chapter on the Laws of Mezuzah, “Every time we walk past a mezuzah we should pause and contemplate and realize that the only thing in the world that is lasting and eternal is HaShem.” Imagine how our lives would be affected if each time we passed under a mezuzah we would pause for a second and remind ourselves of the basic fact that there is Supreme Being in the World.
Consider the story of Onkelos and the Roman Soldiers.
Sent as a Roman general to fight against Israel, the great Roman — Onkelos — ended up converting to Judaism. Enraged, the Roman emperor sent additional emissaries to dissuade Onkelos. Instead, they too converted, and so it went: everyone sent by Rome to dissuade Onkelos became converts to Judaism. What convinced them to become Jews?
Never having heard of such bold concepts — that the heavenly King protects his subjects and not the other way around, that the King helps his subjects achieve a heightened spiritual level, and that the subjects share the King’s own powers of creation — the Roman legionnaires became practicing Jews, embracing all of Torah and its mitzvos, for they realized that these are the avenue to arriving at an intimate relationship with the Creator.
We see from this incident that walking past a mezuzah is a life changing event.
After all, those non Jews - upon understanding what the mezuzah represented - converted! That’s no easy process! Think about what that entailed. They changed their name, gave up old friends, underwent circumcision, changed everything about them and began a whole new way of life…. And because of what? Because of a mezuzah!
What was the inspiration? What did they find so moving?
To the pagan culture of that day that the soldiers belonged to, there was either no such thing as a Higher Being, or if He did exist He was certainly too busy with the cosmos and the galaxies to be interested in small little me. For sure, He has no interest in my life or my mundane actions.
But Judaism teaches that G-d is interested in us.
Not just that He’s interested in us, but that He wants to be intimately connected with us - to the extent that every time we walk in and out of a room, He wants us to think of Him.
I am here with you.
I want to be involved with you.
I want to have a connection to you.
You are important to me.
That is why God created the world.
The reason for the whole of creation is because God wants to have a connection with us!
Consider: G-d had no need to create the world for Himself. Infinite Being’s don’t lack anything. G-d created the world for one reason alone – for our good, so that we should enjoy the ultimate of pleasures, which is to have a connection with Him.
To concretize this closeness God commands us to write a paragraph describing the love we have for each other and place it on the entrance of every room in your house, so that every entryway we walk through, every time we walk in and out of our house, every time we walk in and out of our bedroom – remember how closely we’re connected.
But it goes beyond that. And this – I believe – is what they found so mind boggling.
Let us look again more carefully at the metaphor Onkeles shared with the soldiers.
The usual way of the world is that the king is inside busy with his work, and the guards are outside, ensuring that the he is safe.
But with God it’s the opposite.
G-d puts His angels on the outside, while we sit on the inside.
Think about this my friends: When a bodyguard protects the president, who is more important – the bodyguard, or the president? That’s right. The president. It’s always the person being protected that is more important than the person doing the protecting.
So when G-d places His ministering angels on the outside to protect us, that means we are more important than them.
Do you see what’s going on?
G-d is placing us at the centre of Creation.
He is putting us in the drivers seat.
You lead the way.
I am giving you the power to influence the whole of creation.
When G-d created us - בצלם אלוקים – in His form, He was giving us the power to build or destroy worlds. To influence the entire spiritual and physical cosmos.
Consider: Yehoshua ben Nun stopped the sun for 24 hours! (Yehoshua 10:12)
Rav Pinchas ben Yair was once on a way to do a mitzvah and there was a river in his way, so he split it! (Chullin 7a)
We know that the Sages in the Talmud could bring people back to life.
And we too have the power to influence the whole world.
How fascinating that in the very same paragraph that Onkeles quoted as his source to this idea, we also read: ה' צלך על יד ימינך
“God is your shadow by your right hand.”
What does it mean that God is a shadow?
Says the Baal Shem Tov: Just like a shadow follows your influence – copying the movements of your hand as you move it up it goes up and as your hand goes down it goes down - so does God follow our lead, acting with us according to the way we act towards Him.
It’s the same idea again. God is telling us. You take the lead. I am right with you, protecting you, watching you, supporting you.
Having appreciated what a mezuzah represents, is it any wonder that the Roman guards decided to convert?
Isn’t it obvious that a non Jew would also want to be part of this?
A mezuzah on the outside of a room attests to G-d’s closeness to us.
Not just that He wants to be connected with us.
And not just that He wants to be intimately involved with every facet of our lives.
But way, way more than that…
It symbolizes that He has placed us at the centre of Creation, putting the entire universe at our fingertips by the choices we make and the way we lead our lives.
It is my sincere prayer that just as these non Jews were so moved by the beauty and depth of what the mezuzah represents that it made them want to change their lives, may we also merit to be inspired by this beautiful and powerful mitzvah.
Rabbi Dan Roth is the author of a new DVD, Mezuzah The Ultimate Connector, which you can purchase here.