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Mezuzah
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Mezuzah


 

 

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God! The Lord is but one!

(Blessed is the name of His Royal Highness forevermore.)
You shall love the Lord your God,

With all your heart, with all your soul,
And with all your plenitude.
And these words, which I command you today,
They shall be on your heart.
Teach them diligently to your children, and discuss them,
When you sit at your home, and as you walk on the road,
When you lie to sleep, and as you rise.
Tie them as an emblem on your hand,
And they shall be as a crest between your eyes.
Write them upon the door-jambs of your house,
And at your gates.”

  

The above was an excerpt from one of God’s most unequivocal commands in the Holy Torah, as it appears in Deuteronomy, Chapters 6 and 11, found in the two weekly portions or Parashot (sing. Parashah) of Va’etchanan and Eikev. These were endowed upon the Israelites following the Exodus from Egypt, and during their long stay in the Sinai desert more than 3300 years ago, in the symbol of a mezuzah. And ever since, Jews have been obligated to practice the tradition.

In the Jewish lexicon, the word mezuzah refers to a small scroll of parchment obtained from a kosher animal, upon which the first two excerpts of the Shema prayer, besides another glorious name of God, are inscribed in a special ink. This is done by a skilled and committed calligraphist, known as the sofer or “scribe”, who is well acquainted with the task.

The word mezuzah is likely taken from the Hebrew root zuz, as it appears in la-zuz or “to move”, and tezuza or “movement”. Alternate interpretations for the word have been offered in other revered commentaries, most notably, “to separate and distinguish”, as well as “to keep away the destroyer”, that is, “to keep away the death”.

The Kabbalists observe that the numerical value of the word mezuzah in Hebrew (מזוזה), that is, 40+7+6+7+5=65, equals the numerical value of the word Adonai (אדֹני) or “Lord”, one of God’s 72 names.

Admittedly, mezuzah is a most important principle and a fundamental element of the Jewish culture and religion. It stands as a symbol for every Jewish person’s beliefs and his or her faith in the essence of His Oneness; and as a religious obligation, it ought to be preserved and practiced.

Jews believe that the sight of a mezuzah on the pillars of their homes symbolizes their authenticity, awareness, and pride in being Jewish; and that by mounting the mezuzah, they bring in a special purity and holiness to their families. The feeling has always been there that by doing so, they would be endowed with the Almighty’s caring attention and support.

The Kabbalists believe that the mezuzah symbolically distinguishes between the “purities” and “impurities”. Thus, by installing it at home or at work, every Jewish person can remember amid an unstable and tumultuous world that humankind is holy, and that he or she belongs to Divinity. This will lead the person to remain untainted by malice on the winding road of life, and to maintain their identity, which is to worship one God.

In other words, not only the mezuzah helps keep the Jewish residence holy and pure, but also it obligates the person to instill such purity and holiness in his own essence, and to avoid committing ugly evil deeds. In short, it awakens and fortifies a sense of piety in the person. After all, God endowed humankind with the right to choose, but also with the power to shield himself and confluence his fate.

The Israelites experienced such Divine providence for the first time when the Tenth and Final Plague came down on the Egyptians. (Exodus, Chapters 11-12; Parashat Bo) As we read, (Exodus, 12:21 ff) “And Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said unto them, ‘Draw out (from your flocks) or take for yourselves (buy) lambs according to your families, and kill the Passover sacrifice. And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel (door-head) and the two jambs (side-posts) with the blood that is in the basin; and none of you shall leave through the door of his house until the morning. And the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians, and He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two jambs. And God will pass over that door, and He will not allow the destroyer (death) to enter your homes to smite. And you shall observe this matter as an ordinance, for you and for your children, forever.’” (This English translation was based in part on the original Hebrew, the 1947 edition of ‘The Holy Bible” by B and S Pubs., N.Y., and the original text in Persian provided by 7Dorim. Similar sources may curently be found on the internet.)

We may find another expression of such Divine providence in the Psalm 121: “The sun shan’t hurt you in the day, neither shall the moon at night. The Lord shall protect you against all wrong. He shall protect your life. The Lord shall protect you when you leave and as you return…” (Psalm 121, translated from Hebrew for this article.)

As it was noted before, the sofer or Scribe is obligated to transcribe the first two parts of the Shema prayer, i.e. the two excerpts from the Torah, on the parchment of a kosher animal. Next, he rolls the parchment, left to right, into a scroll, and he writes another of God’s names in Hebrew, Shadai, on the back of the scroll. The three-letter word Shadai signifies the grace of God, who protects all doors that open before the Jewish people. In other words, as a person enters or exits any place with a mezuzah mounted on its doorframe, they can feel the oneness of God’s essence in their own being. Additionally, as with the other words in the Jewish mystical culture, the word Shadai (שדי) has its own numerical value and particular interpretation: 300+4+10=314. When divided by 100, it renders 3.14, evoking the Pi number, which has been employed in mathematics for centuries, including to calculate the circumference, area, or when applicable, the volume, of circles, cylinders, spheres, and many other geometrical shapes.

 

Below are a few important points regarding the use and protection of the mezuzah:

Moisture, dry air, sunlight, wind, or rain, each could damage the mezuzah over time, void its holiness, and render it pointless. Therefore, by now for a long while, to protect the scroll against such natural causes, it’s been placed traditionally inside a wooden or metal casing, or more recently, inside one made of porcelain or plastic. The casing is often decorated with the word Shadai in Hebrew.

Be mindful that every word in the mezuzah should be perfect. No letter can be scratched; neither can there be any holes or other wear on the parchment. Otherwise, the mezuzah has been rendered pointless and devoid of the quality of the Divine protection.

According to the Halachah, it’s customary to have the mezuzah inspected at least two times in seven years by an expert, such as a rabbi, to control its quality and make sure of its holiness.

Mezuzah should be mounted on all doors, whether at home or at the workplace, where the place is stationary. Its correct location is on the right side-jamb as we enter the place. It’s mounted vertically with a slight tilt. The tilted installment has been an old Eastern tradition. Although no documented reason has been found for this distinction, some believe that thecommon slope of 20-25 degrees corresponds with the nearly 23.5-degree tilt in the earth’s axis of rotation. And the tilt of the earth in part brings about the seasons, effects a range of laws in nature, and in a manner of speaking, leads to a revival of life.

If we divide the door-post equally into three imaginary parts, the mezuzah should be placed at the bottom of the top third, with its upper tip angled toward the inside of the door. Given its holiness, the mezuzah is not mounted on the door-jambs of baths and restrooms. Men and women could both install the mezuzah.

 

The mounting of the mezuzah is consecrated by the following benediction:

ברוך אתה ה' אלוהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וציוונו לקבוע מזוזה

“Blessed is the Lord our God, the King of the world, who made us holy by his commands and ordered us to mount the mezuzah.”

When installing several mezuzot, it’s enough to recite the blessing only once. When changing homes or workplace, if you are certain that a gentile will be replacing you, inspect the mezuzah, make sure it’s whole, and take it with you to mount at your new place.

 

Sources:

Mythical Beliefs, by Yousef Setareh-Shenas.