...Mezuzah, the trademark of a Jewish house.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Upon entering a Jewish home, a visitor is immediately faced with a small parchment scroll attached to the doorpost – a mezuzah. A Jewish house is not guarded by fearsome lions or mysterious sphinxes carved out of stone. It is guarded by the mezuzah. The common expression is, “My home is my castle.” However, the Jewish people rely not on the fortitude of the walls but on the strength of their spirit and faith, as expressed in the small parchment scroll that affords them Divine protection. What is it in this scroll inscribed with the holy words of Torah that has protected Jewish homes for thousands of years?1

The Torah states:

And thou shalt inscribe them [these words] on the mezuzoth (the doorposts) of thy house, and upon thy gates. (Deuteronomy VI, 9; XI, 20)

The word mezuzah literally means a doorpost. A mezuzah is a hand-written parchment scroll. A scribe writes the two paragraphs – Shema Yisrael (“Hear O’ Israel”) from the Torah portion Va’ethchanan (Deuteronomy VI, 4-9) and Vehayah Im Shamo’ah (“And it shall come to pass”) from the Torah portion Ekev (Deuteronomy XI, 13-21) – containing the previously quoted commandment, on this parchment scroll.

Mezuzah has always been a beloved custom of Jewish people. Josephus reports in Antiquities that mezuzah is an old and established custom.

Jews often risked their lives in stubborn observance of this precept. Thus, in medieval Spain, the Inquisition prosecuted marranos on the grounds that they would avoid sweeping the dirt from the front steps of the house in order not to show disrespect to a mezuzah usually affixed to the right doorpost, even when a mezuzah itself was no longer there. Some went to such lengths as to hide a mezuzah in a foot of the Madonna statue prominently displayed at the entrance of the house. Who would ever suspect that a devout “Catholic” kissing the foot of the Madonna was actually a hidden Jew kissing his beloved mezuzah?

The old scars of ripped-off mezuzah cases mark the doorposts of many houses throughout Eastern Europe – signs of once-vibrant Jewish communities now lying in ruins.

In the ancient walls of the Old City in Jerusalem one can still find small diagonal indentations in stone doorposts chiseled out to house a mezuzah. In a nearby settlement, one can find a mezuzah placed in a used cartridge case affixed to a doorpost – a sign of the continued struggle for our homeland, for Jewish survival. This mezuzah reflects the eternal message:

Some rely upon their chariots and some upon horses, but we – in the Name of the L-rd our G‑d we call. They slumped and fell, but we arose and stand firm. (Psalms XX, 8-9)

Throughout the entire history of the Jewish people since the Exodus from Egypt the mezuzah showed us the way 2 – the very unique way, the way of life. The way in a sense of what Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto3 called Derekh Hashem – The Way of G‑d. Let us embark on this road bound inward and upward, and let the mezuzah show us the way.