A week ago last Thursday night Cheryl and I returned to Atlanta after stopping off in Florida on our way back from Nicaragua to clean out my father’s apartment and begin to put his affairs in order. He lived in a condominium complex in Hallandale called The Hemispheres. In almost every condominium there are condo commandos. What’s a condo commando? Self-appointed people who go around and make sure that every single jot and tittle of the condominium’s by laws and rules are scrupulously observed by everyone. I remember being told many times that I couldn’t sit on the beach chairs by the pool if I didn’t have the proper pocket towel lining the chair. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these people would observe the laws of the Torah as carefully as they make sure that everyone observes the laws of the condo? But that’s a sermon for another time.
I remember reading in the Miami Herald about a fancy high rise where its condo commander noticed a mezuzah on the door of one of the apartments. He immediately sent the occupant a letter, notifying them that they were in violation of article such and such of condominium regulations forbidding anything “to be affixed to, or attached to, or hung on the exterior doors without the written permission of the board of directors.” The letter further said that if the mezuzah was not removed promptly, she could be liable to a fine of up to $1,000 and/or eviction and since she was a renter, she was not eligible to appear before the board of directors to protest. (Reimer tfxBo68)
The renter, Laurie Richter, is a lawyer and noticed that there were a number of Christmas wreaths hanging on the doors of other apartments. She called upon the Anti-Defamation League and her congressman for help. She argued that, for Jews, having a mezuzah on the door is not like having a Christmas wreath, which is just a decoration. Having a mezuzah on the door is a commandment—one that goes back to this week’s Torah reading. And therefore, the association is in violation of Florida law which forbids discrimination in housing.
I don’t know what happened in this case because I’m not a regular reader of theMiami Herald. But it does beg the question: What’s a mezuzah and why is it important?
In today’s Torah portion we find the 1st paragraph of the Shema which contains the command (Deut. 6:9): Uch-tavtam al m’zuzot beytecha uvish’arecha (And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your home and on your gates). This is themitzvah of mezuzah. Following the command to love Gd in the Shema are 3 action commandments. 2—tefilin and mezuzah—follow immediately in this 1stparagraph, and tzitzit (tallit) in the last paragraph. By surrounding yourself and your home with symbols of Gd and His Torah—like tefillin, mezuzah and tallit—your awareness and closeness to Gd is enhanced. And so the Talmud (Menachot33a) declares: “Whosoever has tefilin on his head and arm, tzitzit on his clothes and a mezuzah on his door is assured not to sin.”
A mezuzah is a parchment scroll upon which are written the 1st 2 paragraphs of theShema that contain the mitzvah of mezuzah. It’s placed in a small box and affixed to every doorpost of one’s home on the upper 1/3 of the right side of the door as you enter the room (with exceptions like bathrooms and closets). The scroll is written on parchment by a scribe in the manner of writing a Torah. The scroll thus has a great degree of holiness and that holiness is brought into your home. When you kiss the mezuzah upon entering and leaving your home, and upon entering and leaving every room (as is customary), you are constantly reminded of Gd and His unbounding love for us. It literally brings the protective power of the Shechinainto our homes.
Jewish literature is filled with stories of the protective power of the mezuzah. The most famous comes from the Jerusalem Talmud (Peyah 1:1, 15d):
The Parthian King Ardavan (2nd century) sent Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi—the key leader of the Jewish people and author of the Mishnah—a priceless gem, with the request, “Let me have in return an article as valuable as this.” So he sent the king a mezuzah.
The king became very upset upon receiving the mezuzah and sent back word, “I gave you a priceless object, and you return to me something worth but afolar (like a dollar)?”
Rabbi Yehuda replied, “My desirable things and thy desirable things are not to be compared. You sent me something which I must guard, while I sent you something which guards you while you sleep.” The Talmud then tells us that the king personally experienced the power of the mezuzah when his daughter became ill. The mezuzuah was affixed to the doorpost of her room and she soon was healed.
Jewish literature is filled with wondrous stories of the protective power of themezuzah. Let me share a few modern stories—all of which actually happened:
The 1st is about a young boy who complained of severe headaches. His parents took him to several doctors to try to diagnose and cure the problem. Finally an ophthalmologist told them the young boy needed surgery immediately or he would risk losing sight in one eye. The father called his rabbi asking him to say a Mishebeyrach healing prayer for his son in the morning when the Torah would be read.
The rabbi said, “Of course,” but told the father to check his son’s mezuzahimmediately. The father explained he just had all the mezuzot in his home checked. (Jewish practice is to check at least twice every 7 years.) The rabbi implored him to recheck anyway. The scribe, who the rabbi recommended, examined themezuzah from the son’s bedroom and found it had a serious defect that rendered it not kosher. The father replaced the mezuzah the next morning.
Later that day the parents brought their son to the hospital for a final check before surgery. After the examination, the ophthalmologist informed them he saw a small improvement in their son’s eye and wanted to delay the surgery for now.
After a couple of weeks, the headaches were gone and the eye was completely healed. The doctor was dumbfounded. It was miraculous! I saw a copy of this mezuzah and the ones in the stories that follow. (You can find them on pages 68-70 in my book, Dancing With God.)What was the defect in the son’s oldmezuzah? The word eynecha, “your eyes,” was misspelled to read eyneychem!
Then there’s the story of a cute toddler who, at age 2, still did not talk. His parents had taken him to several specialists, but to no avail. After his 3rd birthday his parents became more desperate every day. One night the father’s rabbi approached him in shul because he appeared so distraught. The father poured out his heart telling the rabbi about his son. The rabbi told him that he must check the mezuzahon his son’s door. Yes, it had a significant defect. The word v’dibarta (and you shall speak) was misspelled to read uv’dabeyr. 2 days after a new mezuzah was affixed to the door, the child began to speak!
The next story is about a man who had suffered 2 mild heart attacks. He had given his mezuzot to be checked after each attack, but no problem was found. After his cardiologist told him he was in danger of a 3rd heart attack, someone suggested that the man send his mezuzot to be checked with the new computerized scanning program. He did and the word l’vavchem (your heart) was found to have a small, but significant defect rendering it l’vach’chem.
I have personally heard many stories of people with heart conditions who went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and after he advised them to check their mezuzot such defects in the word for “heart” were found. They immediately replaced themezuzah and their medical problems were diminished.
My last story is about a young man who was taken in by a cult. The parents sought the advice of a famous Kabbalist who told them to check the mezuzah on the doorpost of his bedroom. A defect in the word echad, which speaks about the Oneness of Gd was found. The last letter, the dalet, had the upper right-hand corner chipped off so it looked like the letter reysh, changing it to read acheyr,אַחר, which indicates another god. Not long after replacing the mezuzah with a kosher one, the young man returned to his family and Judaism.
What’s a mezuzah and why is it important? It’s obvious to me that Gd gave us the command to put a mezuzah on all our doorposts so that every living space we have will be infused with holiness and Jewishness. The V’ahavta paragraph of the Shemathat contains the mitzvah of mezuzah opens with the commandment to love Gd. Showing our love of Gd by following His commandments—especially those in the Shema, like teaching your children, tefilin and mezuzah—allows us to feel Gd’s Presence as it sets the stage for a loving response from Gd showering us with His protecting love.
I sure hope that Laurie Richter won her case and defeated that condo commander. And I hope that all of us who have mezuzot on our doorposts will learn from her what it means to have mezuzot on all our doors. So let me end by asking you: “What’s on Your Doorposts?” Amen!