The mezuzah is one of the few mitzvot (divine commandments) for which the
Torah states its reward. In this case, the reward is long life for oneself and
one's children: And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts ("mezuzot")
of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children
may be prolonged upon the land which the L-rd swore to give to your fathers for
as long as the heavens are above the earth (Deuteronomy 11:20-21).
According to the Tosafot and the Shulchan Aruch,
the main function of the mezuzah is to protect the house from evil. Because of
this attribute, the mezuzah has been called "the coat of arms in the
knighthood of G-d." To begin to understand the mechanism of this effect of
the mezuzah, we must first delve into the concept of evil itself.
Evil was created ex nihilo just as the rest of Creation. It was
not created for its own sake, however, but only as an instrument of free choice.
It is tolerated to the extent that it serves this purpose.
In order to allow for the existence of beings that would not be absorbed and
nullified in the Source, G-d chose to conceal and withdraw His light to create,
so to speak, a "vacuum" where created beings would feel their
independent existence. This, in oversimplified form, is the fundamental concept
of tzimtzum (the concealment and contraction of the primordial Divine
light, which is the cornerstone of Lurianic Kabbalah). The concept of tzimtzum
demonstrates how a monistic creation can lead to apparent dualism.
The absence of light, of course, allows the possibility for darkness -- or
evil. Our task is to discover G-d hiding, as it were, behind a veil of darkness.
Chassidic master Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch once found his little son crying
because while playing hide-and-seek, he hid but none of the children looked for
him. Rabbi DovBer started crying himself and explained to his son that our
Heavenly Father also is hiding from his children, as it is written, "You
are a G-d Who hides" (Isaiah 45:15), so that they should search for Him --
but no one searches!
Evil, by definition is that which conceals the true source of existence, the
Creator. The very term for evil in the Kabbalah, klipah, means
"shell" or "husk". It is something that has no independent
value, other than to serve as a covering for the fruit.
Evil was created to provide us with the freedom of choice, which is possible
only where there is an alternative to good available. Had there been no outer
shell concealing the truth, we would be compelled to obey G-d's will. If denied
free choice, we would also be denied reward.
Conversely, with no free will there is no evil. An animal killing its prey
for food cannot be accused of committing an evil act since it has no choice in
this matter. It was created by G-d with a predatory instinct and no free will.
Similarly, angels cannot be considered good because they were created to do so.
Only humans possessing free will can rise above angels or fall below animals,
depending upon the choices they make.
Thus we see that without evil there is no free choice, and without free
choice there is no good or evil. Evil allows for the exercise of good in the
same sense that a ray of light can be seen only in a cloudy sky.
Once we understand that evil must exist and that it plays a positive role in
the scheme of Creation, we are confronted with another problem: If evil is the
husk or the concealment of G-dly light, where does its energy come from? What
sustains its existence? The answer is, of course: The same Creator Who gives
life to everything. Whereas, though, the domain of holiness receives G-d's
sustenance in abundance, the merely tolerated domain of evil is relegated to
feeding on "leftovers."
Kabbalah calls evil, sitra achra, "the other
side." G-d allows a minute amount of life-giving energy to trickle down to
the "other side" in order to maintain its existence. Too much of such
energy kills it completely. As the sages of the Kabbalah put it, "Bright
light blinds the eyes of evil forces." The intellect, particularly wisdom
(called Chochmah in Kabbalah), is the bright light that disperses
That is why evil must always remain in darkness, feeding on what leaks
through the small holes in the domain of holiness. The Kabbalah calls a hole or
an opening ra (evil) because it allows vestiges of holiness to leak
through, providing the "other side" with its life force.
Now we can understand how the mezuzah protects the house. A Jewish home,
which is a miniature Temple, is a vessel of holiness. A door opening to a
strange and often hostile world, to the "other side," is thus called
evil. The Zohar tells us that the forces of evil dwell near the door, because
that is where they receive their nourishment. This is similar to pathogenic
bacteria and fungi flourishing in dark places.
Containing the wisdom of absolute monotheism, "Hear O Israel, the L-rd
is our G-d, the L-rd is One," the mezuzah is the ray of bright light which
blinds the evil forces, denying them the right of entry and dispersing them.
This is the mystery of the mezuzah.
Time, Space, and Soul
An additional explanation of why the mezuzah is affixed to the gates of the
house can be found in one of the laws of Shabbat.
The gates of a house separate reshut ha'ycahid (the private
domain) from reshut ha'rabim (the public domain). On Shabbat it is
forbidden to carry any object from one domain to the other. Kabbalah associates reshut ha'yachid (literally, the "domain of the one") with the
Singular Master of the Universe. Reshut ha'rabim (the "domain
of the many") represents the domain of evil -- the multiplicity of the
physical world that disguises and hides the underlying unity of Creation.
During the first six days of the week, we must deal with the multifarious
world, albeit trying to refine and repair it, to reveal its inner unity. On the
seventh day we must abstain from all creative activities to observe the holiness
of the day. The Hebrew word for holiness, kodesh, means literally
"separated." Therefore, we observe the holiness of Shabbat by honoring
that separation and not carrying an object from one domain to another.
The ancient Kabbalistic work Sefer Yetzirah says that the
entire Creation exists in three dimensions: time, space, and soul. The primary
task of a Jew is to reveal hidden holiness in each of these dimensions. G-d made
it easier for us by starting off the process. He sanctified the seventh day, a
point of holiness in time. He sanctified the Holy Land of Israel, Jerusalem, and
the Temple Mount as areas of ever increasing holiness in space. He gave us a
holy spark, "a part of G-d from above indeed," for our souls.
Utilizing all of the above, we must sanctify the rest of Creation by revealing
its hidden unity.
The mezuzah combines the holiness of all three dimensions. It is affixed in
space to the doorpost, the threshold of the house. As the threshold marks the
transition from one domain to another, the mezuzah symbolizes motion. Zuz,
the root of the word mezuzah, means "to move." Motion is the essence
of time. The words shanah (year) and shniyah (second) come from
the word shinui (change). All these words denote change or motion. Hence,
the mezuzah marks holiness in time.
On the other hand, the law requires that a mezuzah be affixed only to a
permanent structure. The essence of space, as opposed to time, is stillness,
immobility. The immobility of the mezuzah connects it to the concept of space.
Furthermore, many of the laws of mezuzah deal with its position in space, i.e.,
where it must be affixed on which side of the doorpost, at which height and
angle. Thus mezuzah brings holiness to the concept of space.
Finally, the mezuzah, which protects the souls of Jewish people, is
ultimately connected to the concept of soul. In the text of the mezuzah scroll
is written, "You shall love your G-d with... all your soul."
So we see how the mezuzah unifies and sanctifies the three dimensions of
time, space, and soul. The idea of the mezuzah unifying and sanctifying time,
space and soul is ultimately expressed in the last verse inscribed on the
"...that your [soul] days [time] and the days
[time] of your children [soul] may be prolonged upon the land
[space] which the L-rd swore to give to your fathers [soul]
for as long as [time] the heavens [space] are above the
G-d gave His chosen people signs of this special relationship. Shabbat is a
sign in time. Mezuzah is a sign in space. Brit milah
(circumcision) is a sign on the level of soul. The connection between mezuzah
and circumcision can be observed from the imperative in Ezekiel 16:6 recited at
the brit milah ceremony, "In your blood, live." Blood
appears in the Torah in Exodus 12:22 where the word "mezuzah" is first
mentioned. This is in the context of the Commandment to mark the doorposts of
Jewish homes with blood of the Passover sacrifice at the time of the Exodus.
Moreover, the Zohar states that "The blood was of two kinds, that of
circumcision and that of the Passover lamb." The Zohar compares the place
of circumcision with the "door of the body." The two concepts are
juxtaposed also in Genesis 18:1, describing Abraham, "… he sat [ill from
his circumcision] at the door of his tent."
Thus the Zohar tells us:
Happy is the portion of Israel for the Jewish people know that they are the
sons of the Holy King, for all bear His stamp. They are marked on their bodies
with the holy sign [of brit mila]; their garments bear the sign
of a mitzvah [of tzitzit - fringes]; their heads are stamped with the
compartments of tefillin [phylacteries] with the name of their Master;
their hands are stamped with the straps of holiness [straps of hand tefillin]
… and in their houses they bear the stamp of the mezuzah at their
doorway. Thus in all ways they are marked as the sons of the Most High King.
The Talmud states that the Chanukah menorah should be placed in a doorway
opposite a mezuzah. In Chassidic philosophy, oil symbolizes the Jewish nation.
Just as oil does not mix with other liquids, so the Jews do not mix with other
nations. Samuel Heilman reports a discourse given by the Belzer Rebbe on this
"Oil does not mix with any other liquid. No matter how much one tries to
blend the oil with other liquids, it always remains separate." The oil, he
went on to explain, represents the Jewish people who, no matter how hard some
may try to mix them with others, will always remain separate, like the oil… .
The light… separates us from darkness. As the light symbolically separates the
sacred from the profane - the Jews from the other nations - so too the mezuzah
on our doors separates and protects us. Both have stood from the beginning as
signs distinguishing between Jews and others. Chanukah lights and the mezuzah
both symbolize separation, and thus protect the Jewish people from corrupting
foreign influences "that threaten to make us disappear." Both are …
"a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Psalms 119:105).
Now all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. In the dimension of time, a
Jew is not allowed to carry an object from one domain to another on Sabbath
because this would violate the holiness -- i.e., lines of separation -- of the
day. On the level of soul, a Jew is forbidden to intermarry, which would cross
the line of separation between the chosen holy people and the rest of humanity,
between "one nation unto G-d" and many nations. In the dimension of
space, the mezuzah stands to separate -- make holy -- the domain of one from the
domain of many, and this demarcation should not be violated by bringing alien
ideas, customs, and values into a Jewish home.
Just as Shabbat is a sanctuary in time and a Jewish soul is a miniature
sanctuary in the dimension of soul, the mezuzah marks a Jewish home as a
miniature sanctuary in the dimension of space. By making one's house a true
sanctuary of G-dliness, a Jew not only fulfills his or her mission in life, but
helps realize the primary purpose of Creation -- giving G-d "a dwelling
place in the lower worlds."
Mezuzah not only stands on the border between the domains of One and many, it
also points inward, toward the domain of One. This comes to teach us that while
G-d created our multifaceted world from One into many, our purpose is to elevate
the physical world to bring it back, as it were, to the unity of the Creator.
This reverse process of bringing many back into One is the direction in which
the arrow of mezuzah points us.
In the dimension of space, the mezuzah points toward the domain of the One,
singular Master of the universe; in the dimension of soul, the mezuzah points to
our singular G-dly spark; and in the dimension of time, the mezuzah points to
the era of Moshiach, when the unity of G-d will be revealed -- may this happen
Our sages said, "He who is observant [of the precept of] mezuzah will
merit a beautiful house." May we soon see in the merit of this great
mitzvah the rebuilding of the most "holy and beautiful House" of all,
the Temple in Jerusalem, as it is written, "I shall dwell in the House of
G-d all the days of my life/ To behold the beauty of G-d and to meditate in His
Sanctuary" (Psalms 27:4).