A. Immediately following the command to affix a mezuzah, “...And thou shalt inscribe them [these words] on the mezuzoth (the doorposts) of thy house, and upon thy gates,” 1 the Torah informs us of the reward for the mitzvah: “…that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children.” 2 The Code of Jewish Law 3 states, “Whoever is careful in it [mezuzah], his days and the days of his children will be lengthened.”4

That Torah explicitly states the reward for mezuzah is something it shares with various other mitzvoth, such as honoring one’s parents5 and others6. Peculiar to this particular mitzvah, however, the Sages7 say that through man’s affixing a mezuzah scroll on the entrance to his house, the Almighty guards the house (“...a human king dwells within and his servants guard him from outside, while you sleep upon your beds and the Holy One, Blessed be He, guards you from outside”8). This protection is not a form of reward, but rather, as the commentator Bayit Chadash (BaCh)9 explains, a “benefit and profit derived from the actual mitzvah itself ... in addition to its reward.” The Tur states that this protection is “greater than” the reward “...that your days may be multiplied, etc.”10 The Bach suggests that this results from its being a benefit “of the actual mitzvah itself.” This protection, further, is not an auxiliary “profit” of the mitzvah but rather a central, essential element. In the words of Tosafoth: “L’shimor avid (its purpose is protection).”11

B. As a result of this particular virtue – that the actual mitzvah itself is a protection – the manner in which the mitzvah of mezuzah is performed is distinct from that of other mitzvoth. Generally, Torah delineates the reward for the commandments primarily12 to strengthen13 and stimulate their observance. The Sages say: “One should always engage in Torah and Mitzvoth, even if he does so not for their own sake.” 14 Maimonides renders this in legal terms in the “Laws of Repentance,”15 and explains that this is the way in which study inevitably begins: “Children, ...are only to be taught ...in order to receive reward ...[when] their knowledge and wisdom increases, [one may] reveal16 to them this secret17 little by little, training them gently toward this vocation (service for its own sake);” and as he elaborates in his Commentary to the Mishnah18, those who do not yet “comprehend the truth to the extent that our ancestor Abraham (Peace be upon him) did” – “...encourage them and strengthen them in their intent” to observe the commandments for the sake of their reward. On the other hand, mitzvah observance merely for the sake of reward is necessarily incomplete, for it is not fulfilled unconditionally as a command. Even when one intends to fulfill the “command of his Creator,” but has “his own benefit” 19 in mind as well – he gives tzedakah “in order that [his] children should thrive or that [he] merit the World-to-Come,”20 although his act21 may be “wholly righteous” – he still falls short of its most complete observance.22

The protection afforded by the mezuzah, however, is (not a reward for the mitzvah, but rather) a product (and portion) of the mitzvah itself. When the mitzvah is observed for the sake of that protection, therefore, nothing is lacking in fulfillment of the commandment, since it is an element of the mitzvah; as Tosafoth states, this is, in fact, its essential purpose – “L’shimor avid.” Among the reasons,23 furthermore, that one is enjoined to affix the mezuzah to the house “in the handsbreadth closest to the public thoroughfare” is “in order that it should guard.” That is, not only may one have its protective quality in mind when he affixes the mezuzah – the mitzvah is even physically performed in a manner matched to it,24 as the Tur25 in fact continues to say in his treatment.

C. The Tur’s conclusion, however, is problematic: “...and nevertheless, one should intend only fulfillment of the Creator’s commandment which He (may He be blessed) has commanded us” – that one should not have in mind that the mezuzah is for the sake of protection. He does not, however, state this as a prohibition, nor does it make sense to suggest that he means to outlaw the idea. As previously mentioned, the action through which the mitzvah is observed deliberately expresses that it protects; thus, certainly, one may have such a thought in mind. The Tur’s concern is that it be observed with the same alacrity and attention whether or not it offered this protection; it should be done “to fulfill the commandment of the Creator.” Still, one may have in mind as he performs it that the mitzvah consists of the Almighty’s command that the Jew place a protective device on his house. Thus, when the mitzvah is observed only for the protection it is still fulfilled, even if not as an unconditional command. As Maimonides instructs, however, for those for whom it is appropriate, “encourage them and strengthen them in their intent” to fulfill the mitzvah in this fashion.

D. One may ask further, however: Maimonides26 decides (and the Tur27 concurs), “Those who write the names of angels within [the mezuzah] ...fall into the category of those who have no share in the World-to-Come, for these fools, not satisfied with having nullified the commandment, make of a great mitzvah ...as if it were an amulet for personal benefit.” That is, when the mezuzah is considered “an amulet for personal benefit” (to be used as a protection), it is not merely ‘not for its own sake;’ it is a “foolishness” and, further, “they fall into the category of those who have no share in the World-to-Come!”28

[Maimonides’ statement that they have “nullified the commandment,” that the mezuzah is rendered unfit for ritual use, does not apply in our case, since there, the mezuzah’s disqualification results (not from having made “of a great mitzvah ...as if it were an amulet...” but rather) from having added (“the names of angels, etc.”) within the mezuzah – and Maimonides decides in the preceding ruling, “One who adds even one letter within renders it [the mezuzah] ritually unfit.”29 The statement which follows, that “they make of a great mitzvah, etc.,” is, thus (not a reason but rather) an addition to, “[they have] nullified the commandment,” and an explanation and rationale for the fact that they “fall into the category of those who have no share, etc.”]

E. In truth, however, Maimonides’ ruling cannot be understood to mean that the prohibition consists in failing to observe the mitzvah ‘for its own sake’ (using the mezuzah instead as a protection for “personal benefit”). Besides the difficulty in calling him a “fool” (since, in fact, “its purpose is protection”), going so far as to deny him “a portion in the World-to-Come” on account of having done so, Maimonides rules30 that “a healthy person who recites [Torah] verses for protection ...this is permissible.” That is, one may use words of Torah as a protection and he is not considered to have made of the Torah an “amulet for personal benefit.”

Maimonides himself, however, explains his ruling by adding (after “as if it [the mezuzah] is an amulet for personal benefit”) “as they foolishly imagine that this is something which yields benefit in worldly vanities.” That they write “names of angels” inside the mezuzah (even though it is itself a protection) reveals that they do not recognize the mezuzah as a mitzvah (for what could one hope to add to the [mitzvah of31 and] protection provided by the Almighty?), but as an “amulet for personal benefit” for their own concerns, which are “worldly vanities.” It is therefore a “foolishness,” for the mezuzah protects only because it is a mitzvah, and the mitzvah provides the protection; they, meanwhile, fool themselves into thinking that the protection comes not from the mitzvah, but from an “amulet for personal benefit.” They are, then, correct that it is “something which yields benefit in worldly vanities” – and, therefore, “they have no portion in the World-to-Come,” just as “those who use the words of Torah to heal the body” are “among those who deny the Torah,”32 for Torah is in fact “a healing for souls.”33

When, on the other hand, one affixes a ritually fit (i.e. kosher) mezuzah, adding nothing to it, but in performing the act has in mind his desire for the protection afforded by the mitzvah,34 at worst he has merely failed to observe the commandment “for its own sake.”35 Even when his only concern is for protection, but his intent is to fulfill the Al-mighty’s command that he place a protection on the entrance to his house, he in fact observes the mitzvah to its fullest extent.36

F. As a result of the previous discussion, that the protection effected through the mezuzah is not a “reward” additional to the mitzvah but rather an element of the mitzvah itself, a difficult point regarding the mitzvah of mezuzah becomes comprehensible:

The Mishnah (in Tractate Keilim, “Vessels”37) enumerates various vessels which have a receptacle (and are therefore susceptible to ritual impurity), among which is “a walking stick which has a receptacle for a mezuzah.” The Tosafoth Yom Tov comments, “It is possible that there were those in the times of the Mishnah who carried a mezuzah with them, considering it a mitzvah and a protection for them.” That the Mishnah mentions “a walking stick which has, etc.” for the sake of protection, without negating it,38 implies that there is room for such conduct.39

[It is, in fact, evident from the Jerusalem Talmud that the mezuzah itself has protective value, even when through it no mitzvah is performed. The Talmud recounts40 that Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi sent a mezuzah to Artaban (a Gentile41), informing him that he had sent him “an object, which protects you while you sleep.” That is, although a Gentile is neither obligated nor eligible to fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah,42 it may still be expected to provide protection (particularly, according to the conclusion of the story, related in Sheiltoth,43 that when Artaban took the mezuzah, etc., the protection began immediately and “instantly the evil spirit fled”).]

At first glance, it seems very strange: the placement of a mezuzah, specifically, in the walking stick is proof that one has not merely taken any portion in Torah (which generally does guard44), seeking, rather, the particular protection provided by a mezuzah; but how is it possible that the mezuzah protect in this case? The law45 is that “if it [the mezuzah] is suspended on a rod, it is unfit,” and as the Talmud46 further emphasizes, “it is a danger, and accomplishes no mitzvah” – as Rashi explains, “danger – from evil spirits, for it does not guard the house until it is affixed in a doorway according to the law.”

[And although the Talmud there recounts47 that “in the house of King Munbaz they did so at the door of their lodgings as a remembrance of the mezuzah,” as in many cases, where a memorial is made where the mitzvah itself cannot be fulfilled, like the shank-bone which is taken on the night of the Passover to remember the Paschal offering48 – we do not find that through a memorial 49 one acquires the reward for the mitzvah; for although this is a “reflection” of and a “memorial” (according to Torah) to the mitzvah, the reward is connected with its fulfillment.]

It is understood from the previous discussion, however, that since the protection afforded through the mezuzah is connected with the mezuzah itself, it is consequently possible that a reflection of that protection be found in the actual mezuzah, even prior to its use in observing the mitzvah of mezuzah, for it was written specifically as a mezuzah; or even in the case of Artaban (where, although written as a mezuzah, it was written for non-ritual use*).

G. This aids further in explaining an extraordinary story told by the Rebbe, my teacher and father-in-law (Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn): 50

When he was imprisoned, he was asked during the first interrogation whether he realized where he was. He answered, “Certainly, I realize that I am in a place which is exempt from having a mezuzah. There are places which are exempt from having a mezuzah, such as a horse stable51 or a lavatory.”

It is, at first glance, difficult to understand: why did the Rebbe choose a characterization in the negative – that this was a place, which was exempt from having a mezuzah? Seemingly, it would have been more appropriate to answer with a positive characterization, that, for example, he recognized that he was in a place in which there (as well) was Divine Providence,52 particularly as he emphasized just this point in relating the details of the imprisonment both prior to and after the interrogation – that “the whole Earth is full of His glory,” and so forth. The Rebbe recounted many times53 that he had wanted to show his persecutors that he remained absolutely firm and undaunted, to the extent that they were “as if they do not exist and are genuinely nothing, a nonentity.”54 Would it not have been appropriate to say exactly that?

It may be said, however, that even there, in prison, the Rebbe wanted to have the protection of the mezuzah; since it was impossible to fulfill the mitzvah in the simple sense, he did what he could to make mention of the concept of the mezuzah and, further, to speak of the laws of mezuzah, through which he might elicit a reflection of the mezuzah’s protection.

He therefore offered and clarified55 the ruling that the place in which he found himself was exempt from having a mezuzah, through which he connected to the concept of mezuzah in two ways: first, through learning the laws of mezuzah – the Sages rule that “whoever engages in the Law of [sacrifices] ...it is as if he has brought [them]”56 – it is as if he had fulfilled the mitzvah of mezuzah; second, through clarifying the ruling that that “house” (which falls within the category, “and you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house,”57 but in this case) was exempted from mezuzah, he connected not merely to “the Law of mezuzah,” but also to the mitzvah of mezuzah, with which it is identified in the negative: that house was exempted from mezuzah. 58

Put in slightly different terms, the relationship between a house and a mezuzah can be in one of two forms: a) If the house is obligated to have a mezuzah, the relationship is positive, through affixing the mezuzah on the doorway to the house; b) If the house is exempt from having a mezuzah, then its relationship is expressed in the negative – one obeys the command of the Torah and does not affix a mezuzah there.

It may be said that this was the Rebbe’s reason for choosing to say that he found himself in a house that is exempted from mezuzah, for that elicited an element of the protection of the mezuzah.

H. We can appreciate from all the foregoing the great merit that results from the efforts in the Mezuzah Campaign, especially in our present times:

The Jewish people are as a single ewe among seventy wolves, whose only aid is the “shepherd who saves and protects her,” 59 in particular, after recent historical events, in which it was clearly apparent that the houses of those persecuted were remiss in the mitzvah of mezuzah. 60

There must be the greatest effort, thus, that every Jewish house has a mezuzah on every door, which is obligated to have one, affixed according to the law. The effort should include both men and women, who are obligated in the mitzvah of mezuzah just as men are;62 particularly, as the Talmud explains63 with the rhetorical, “Men require life, do not women require life?”64 [Further, as Akereth ha-bayith, “the principal of the household,” she has a special duty to safeguard household concerns, including protection of the house through mezuzoth on “the doorposts of your house.”] Thus will come to be protected the house and all that is within; further, as stated in the Zohar, 65

Since all Israel are responsible for one another,66 and all Jews are a “single structure,”67 understandably, every single mezuzah on a door which is required to have one increases the protection of the entire structure – of all Israel, of every Jew, man, woman and child, wherever he is; in the words of Scripture, “May G‑d guard your goings and comings, from now on and forever.”

[From talks given on Shavuoth and Shabbath Parshath Bahalothecha, 5727, and 12 Tammuz, 5734]