Ado-nay, open my lips

Psalms, 51:17

The forty-year journey in the Sinai desert was marked for the young Jewish nation by two events of paramount importance. The first event was the Revelation at Mount Sinai: G‑d’s giving the Torah to the Jewish people, when He entered into an eternal covenant with His chosen nation. The second event took place forty years later as the Jewish people stood ready to enter the Promised Land. The significance of this latter event is underscored by the fact that it was deemed necessary at that point that Moses restate the Covenant, and once again inscribe the law onto stones reminiscent of the two stone tablets he had received from G‑d at Mount Sinai. Thus, we read in the Torah:

And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over the Jordan unto the land which the Lord thy G‑d giveth thee, that you shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster. And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over; that thou mayest go in unto the land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the G‑d of thy fathers, hath promised thee. And it shall be when ye are passed over the Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaster them with plaster… And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly. (Deuteronomy XXVII, 1-4, 8)

We read further in Scripture:

And it came to pass, when all the nation were clean passed over the Jordan, that the Lord spoke unto Joshua, saying: ‘Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, and command them, saying: Take you hence out of the midst of the Jordan, out of the place where the priests’ feet stood, twelve stones made ready, and carry them over with you, and lay down in the lodging-place, where ye shall lodge this night.’ Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man; and Joshua said unto them: ‘Pass on before the Ark of the Lord your G‑d into the midst of the Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel; that this may be a sign among you… and these stone shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.’ (Joshua IV, 1-7)

According to the Sages of the Talmud, there were three groups of twelve stones each: one erected by Moses in Trans-Jordan just before his passing, the second and the third erected by Joshua in the midst of the Jordan river and on mount Ebal respectively, the latter taken into Gilgal for permanent placement.1

Nachmanides hints at the connection between these stones and the mezuzah when he writes:

Therefore, we have been commanded to memorialize [those miraculous events in writing] upon the stones and the mezuzoth at the exit and entrance.

Abarbanel,2 in his commentary on Deuteronomy (loc. cit.), develops this idea further:

They wrote the Torah on the stones as an act that was similar to their forefathers when they stood at the Mount Sinai and received the Torah. At that time they fulfilled the commandment: ‘And thou shalt inscribe them [these words] on the mezuzoth (the doorposts) of thy house, and upon thy gates.’ (Deuteronomy VI, 9; XI, 20). Therefore, He commanded them when they crossed over the Jordan that they should again write the Torah on the stones which were in the form of a mezuzah on the gate [to Israel] through which they entered.

The significance of these words can hardly be underestimated. Abarbanel explains here that Moses and, later, Joshua admonish the Jewish people before leading them into the Promised Land, not to mistake it for a country like the other countries they had passed on the way to Canaan. The Promised Land was destined to be the Holy Land; the stones in the form of a mezuzah at the entrance to the Jewish national homeland were there to remind the generations to come that they were “treading on consecrated ground,” in the words of the Chatham Sofer (loc. cit.) They were to remember that their purpose in the Land of Israel was to serve G‑d by fulfilling His Commandments as they are expressed in the Torah, which in turn would afford them divine protection just as an individual Jewish home is guarded by its mezuzoth.

A noted Torah commentator, Alshich3, notes a curious inconsistency in the text in Deuteronomy quoted above. In the words of Moses, “and plaster them with plaster” (loc. cit.) the word plaster is consistently misspelled. The Hebrew word for plaster (lime, whitewash), “sid”, is usually spelled samech-yud-daleth. However, in this paragraph it is consistently spelled shin-yud-daleth. Alshich suggests that the reason for such deliberate “misspelling” is to allude to the letters Shin-Daleth-Yud. Although he does not explicitly mention any connection with mezuzah, these are the same letters, written on the obverse side of the mezuzah parchment, that spell the word Shad‑dai, the Almighty, the Guardian of the Doors of Israel!

Abarbanel writes that there are gates and doorposts that belong to an individual; these are parts of his home. There are also gates and doorposts that belong to a nation; these are of its national Homeland. The mezuzah is to remind us of the gift of the Land of Israel, the Jewish national Homeland.

We may look upon the mezuzah as the national flag of the Jewish people. Wherever we go, we display with pride the mezuzoth on our doors as our national banner, as the symbol of our allegiance to G‑d, to the land of Israel, to the ideals of the Torah.

On an esoteric level, Bnei Yissachar gives a very interesting commentary on the subject:

Sichon and Og were the locks [as it were] to the land of Israel, dwelling just at its entrance when it was still in the hands of the [Canaanite] nations. [The nation of] Israel came and captured their lands, giving them to the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of the tribe of Menashe as their inheritance. It is known [to the students of Kabbalah] that there are twelve tzirufim – combinations [of the letters] of the name “Havaya” (YHVH), which illuminate the twelve tribes, one combination for each tribe. This being the case, two and a half tribes combine to two and a half times the gematria of Havaya (26 x 2.5), adding up to 65, equaling the gematria of the name, “Ado-nay.”

This is the secret [hidden in the verse] “Ado-nay, open my lips,” (Psalms, 51:17) that the entrance to the land of Israel was opened through Ado-nay, which is to say by two and a half tribes. This is, as well, the secret [in the word] “mezuzah” equaling 65, as Ado‑nay does. We place the mezuzah at the entrance, in correspondence with the children of Israel having placed at the entrance to the land of Israel two and a half tribes, in which two and a half [tzirufim – combinations of the letters of the name] Havaya shine.

For protection, we write on the mezuzah the names, “kuzu bmucsz kuzu,” adding up to the value 213, for the sake of protecting the entrance for the children of Israel. In the realm of impurity, the names “Sichon” and “Og” [also] add up to 213, for they stood as protection for Canaan and the other nations of the land. As the children of Israel came close to the land, these guardians were removed from the entrance to the land of Israel, and they affixed a “mezuzah” for protection through these names, which nullify the impure forces of Sichon and Og. Therefore, after the conquest of Sichon and Og, it is written, VaYaGaR Moav,” etc. [Yud, Gimel, and Resh adding up to 213] “and Moav feared...” (Bamidbar 22:3)

And this is the meaning of the verse, “And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts (mezuzoth) of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land, etc. (Deuteronomy XI, 21),” that when we fulfill the commandment of mezuzah on which are written these aforementioned three names, we nullify the impure forces of Sichon and Og, and hence, neither oppressor nor enemy will approach the gates of Jerusalem.

To understand this highly esoteric commentary, we must recall the teaching of Kabbalah according to which the Holy One created the world zeh l’umath zeh – “one opposite the other”, meaning that the world of holiness has a mirror reflection in the world of impurity. In light of this, Bnei Yissachar states that just as in the world of the unholy the klipoth (shells or forces of impurity) named Sichon and Og (materially embodied in the nations called by the same names) stood as guardians preventing the children of Israel from entering the land of Canaan, and were subsequently replaced by two and a half tribes of Israel; so too the mezuzah, with a gematria of 65 alluding to the two and a half tribes which guarded the Jewish land then, now guards Jewish homes. Furthermore, the mystical inscription kuzu bmucsz kuzu alludes to and is an antidote to the klipoth of Sichon and Og.