What is a Mezuzah?
The word Mezuzah in Hebrew, מזוזה (mi-ZOO-zah), literally means “doorpost.” In the Jewish tradition, however, the word means much more, referring to a piece of parchment inscribed with passages from the Torah that is rolled up and enclosed in an often decorative case. Mezuzahs are hung on the doorposts of every Jewish house and bring protection and peace into the home. Placing a Mezuzah is a positive commandment, one of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) which God directs Jews to perform.
What is inside the case?
The verses inscribed on the Mezuzah scroll are comprised of four different passages from the Torah, including the famous Jewish prayer “Shema Yisrael” as well as other verses affirming love for God. The reverse side of the scroll contains one of the Hebrew names for God, שד-י (shah-DAI), which is also an acronym for the Hebrew words שומר דלתות ישראל (sho-MEHR dal-TOTE yis-ra-EL), meaning “guardian of the doors of Israel.” The first letter of this name, ש (shin), commonly appears on the outside of the case to reflect what is written on the inside, which is not visible.
Where do we place the Mezuzah?
The Mezuzah is hung on the right side of the entrance, and is affixed with a special blessing and great joy. As we travel from place to place, it serves as a constant reminder of the Oneness of God and His constant love and providence. Our sages teach us that a house with a Mezuzah at its entrance is compared to a house that is protected by God Himself! Is there a better safety guarantee than that? Remarkably, it is brought down that a Mezuzah protects those in whose home it hangs even when they are away from home.
Deep Insight for the Home
Mezuzah is a very important mitzvah that provides deep insight into Judaism’s Divine wisdom. For example, the Mezuzah is generally hung from the doorpost in a slightly slanted position. This reminds us as we enter the home that peace in the family requires compromise. Nothing is straight up and down. When spouses can’t see eye to eye, the solution is flexibility – to slant to the will of the other and accommodate each person in some way.
Laws Regarding the Mezuzah
The text of the Mezuzah scroll must be hand-written by a trained Jewish scribe on parchment paper that was prepared from the skin of an animal and meets specific standards. If any letter is not written properly, it invalidates the entire scroll. When a person moves, he must affix Mezuzahs in his new home within 30 days of living there.
It is also customary to kiss the Mezuzah each time one passes it, whether entering or leaving through a doorway. Many people kiss the Mezuzah as an expression of simple faith and connection to God.
How to Take Care of the Mezuzah
A Mezuzah should be checked twice during every seven year period by bringing it to a qualified scribe who inspects the parchment to see that no letters are cracked. Sometimes age and weather can damage the scroll, which may invalidate the Mezuzah. The scribe can ensure that the Mezuzah continues to meet the standards of Jewish ritual law and provide protection and inspiration for years to come.