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TCS Question - Why do we put a mezuzah on our door posts?

In the first year that we were living in Port Washington my parents came for a visit and we took them on a drive around some of the surrounding neighborhoods. In the car my dad enjoyed playing one of his favorite games of spotting the ,uzuzn mezuzot on the houses we passed. For him, the game was about identifying the Jewish neighborhoods and getting a sense of where the Jewish communities are based. Needless to say he was impressed by the number of ,uzuzn mezuzot that we saw, and the consequent size of the Jewish population on the island.

When we ask the question of how to identify a Jewish house there are a variety of things we might look for once we are inside, but from the outside the single identifying feature is the vzuzn mezuzah which one will usually see on the doorpost of the home.

In our Torah, the first example we have of identifying a Jewish home by an outward marking comes when the Israelites were in Egypt. On the eve of the tenth plague the Israelites were told to take a lamb, to kill it, and to take the blood “and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door posts of the houses” (Exodus 12:7). This marking would allow God to identify the Israelite houses and to pass over them, so that their firstborn children would be saved.

The actual commandment to have a vzuzn mezuzah on the house comes later on in the Torah. The first occurrence may be familiar as it forms part of the gna Shema. We read: “These words that I command you this day … you shall write them upon the door posts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6&8). The commandment of writing them upon the door posts of your house and upon your gates is restated in Deuteronomy 11:20, which is part of the traditional second paragraph of the gna Shema.

In this way the vzuzn mezuzah has come to refer to the case and the parchment within it that are affixed to the doors of our homes. The parchment contains the first and second paragraphs of the gna Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, so that the words of the commandment are actually part of the vzuzn mezuzah itself.

The purpose of the vzuzn mezuzah is to serve as a reminder of the Covenant and of our relationship with God. It is not intended to ward away evil or to serve as an outward identifier of a Jewish home. The purpose is so that when a Jewish person walks past it they remember the Covenant. In a similar way the ,hmhm tzitzit, the fringed garment that we traditionally way is supposed to remind us of the commandments from God.

For all of us, the question is what do we think about when we see a vzuzn mezuzah? Does it serve as a reminder of the covenant or do we think about something else? And next time you see a vzuzn mezuzah what will you be thinking about?

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Rabbi Danny
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