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What's In Your Mezuzah? #740

08/19/2022 02:29:37 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Eikev: "And you shall write them on the doorposts of your homes, and in your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:9)

What's In Your Mezuzah?


On a particularly cold night in Edmonton, Canada, as we were having dinner, the doorbell rang.

“Good evening, we are from the Diabetes Association,” the middle-aged man at the door informed me, his words piercing through the cold fog. Next to him stood a woman - both bundled in winter coats and hats. “Could you please assist the association with a donation?”

“Of course,” said Patte as she stood behind me. “Please come in while I get our check book.”

As we chatted in the foyer, Patte wrote out a donation, and placed it in the woman’s glove. The couple looked at each other, looked up and at us, and then nodded.

“See dear,” she said to the man, “I told you. Whenever we ring the bell of someone with one of those little boxes up there on the door, we always get a donation.”

“It’s a called a mezuzah,” I replied. 

And with that, they thanked us, and trudged to our next door neighbor. I watched for a few moments through the window as the scene repeated itself, and then returned to the dinner table.

It was a telling incident, one which in many ways has its roots in week’s Torah portion.

Moses, in his last days, as he continues to instruct the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land, recounts some of the events of the previous 40 years, reinforcing some of the principles, which he hopes will sustain the Jewish people through time.

And one of those values pertains to the mezuzah.

You likely have one on your front door. That little box, hanging at an angle. We know what it looks like on the outside, but what does it say on the inside? Indeed, over the centuries, artists have produced many different styles and designs.

Our front door mezuzah was produced by a Jewish society in Poland that identifies former homes and apartments of Holocaust victims where the outlines of extracted mezuzot can still be identified. 

Members of the society bring molds to those doorposts, press the material into the indentations, and then remake them into modern day mezuzot.

There are many designs to a mezuzah, but some things remain constant. If you look closely, most include on the surface a Shin, the first letter of one of God’s names – El Shaddai.

On the inside, the klaf -- the handwritten rolled scroll - contains two Biblical paragraphs. One includes the Shema Yisrael – a reminder that we are connected in oneness with God and each other, and that we should teach “these words” to our children.

The second paragraph reinforces that there are consequences to our actions, and - in a phrase - we “reap what we sew.”

The key word is Shema – to listen – and we can do so not only with our ears, but also with our hearts.

That mezuzah commandment is included in this week’s Torah portion as Moses instructs the Israelites, "And you shall write them on the doorposts of your homes, and in your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:9)

It’s an important commandment, especially during these challenging times.

Often, we exit our homes each day with some degree of stress. Gripping a cup of coffee, as we hit the garage door opener, and juggle our briefcase or papers, we often forget the beauty of the home we are leaving: our children, our spouses, the love and oneness of family.

The mezuzah acts as a type of laser beam which reminds us - as we cross the threshold - to take that love into the world.

And when we return home, often burdened by the realities of earning a living or navigating a traffic jam on the LIE, the mezuzah encourages us to leave the stresses of the world outside, as we cross through the doorway.

The mezuzah – with its commandment to both listen and teach - reminds us, as we both enter and exit, that our home is a place where family, love and kindness can refuel and sustain our souls.

This week’s Torah portion also reinforces the fact that all the hardships we experienced in Egypt – and by extension those daily challenges in our own lives - have made us who we are.

As a people, we have channeled that adversity and have elevated the lives of others. For it is our mission as Jews to serve as God’s partner in completing creation.

Notes the Torah, “Remember the long way that your God יהוה has made you travel in the wilderness these past 40 years, in order to test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts.” (Deuteronomy 8:2)

Indeed, each failure, each disappointment, each challenge has not only made us stronger, but it has opened our hearts to the condition of others who have been subjected to slavery and hardship – whether physical or spiritual.

Moses also offers words of caution:

“Don’t grow haughty,” he counsels, reminding the Israelites 3,000 years go - and each of us today - to remember where we come from, to never be blinded by success, and to share that insight and sensitivity with others.

These are the “words” contained inside that little scroll. It is so important to who we are as a people that many touch it and kiss their fingers as they enter or exit their homes, or a room where a mezuzah hangs.

The mezuzah also reminds us - that despite the rampant influence these days of materialism and technology - to teach these values to our children and grandchildren.

The key words here, contained in the Shema Yisrael, is Baitecha – "in your house."

These days, as we return home, our instinct is to slouch on the couch after a long day. Perhaps we immediately grab the TV remote or check our texts, while so many of our family members do the same.

But, our homes, our dining room tables, our common rooms can serve as places to model values, to teach, and to listen.

For whether children articulate it or not, they are always watching. 

Families don’t sit together and share meals and the day's events as much as they used to. Maybe they should.

So, this week, as Moses continues to review some of Judaism’s key lessons, we are reminded of the mezuzah: It reinforces that - as we pass thru the threshold of our home - family, kindness, the importance of listening and teaching can shape the future of our families, our people and perhaps the world.

This world continues to be a challenging place. There is so much going on beyond our doors that we can’t control.

But this week’s Torah portion reminds us that we can make a difference in the behavior that we model, reinforced by that little box which hangs from our doorpost.

For as always, the mezuzah reminds us, that love and kindness begin at home.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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