Siddur Ba-eir Hei-teiv --- The Transliterated Siddur

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Daily Blessings: Before Mitzvot: Affixing a Mezzuzah Print E-mail
All transliterations, commentary, and audio recordings are copyright © 1997, 1998, 2002, 2009, or 2016 by Jordan Lee Wagner. All rights reserved.

Affixing a Mezzuzah

Before completing the installation of a mezzuzah:

Ba-ruch a-tah A-do-nai
E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ha-o-lam,
a-sher ki-d'sha-nu b'mitz-vo-tav,
lik-bo-a m'zu-zah.
Blessed are You, HaShem,
our God, King of the Universe,
who makes us holy through His commandments,
and commanded us
to affix a mezzuzah.

If some architectural consideration, or the room's function, places the requirement for a mezzuzah in doubt, affix the mezzuzah but do not recite the blessing. For more information, see the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, chapter 51.

The Mezzuzah

There will be a small container mounted to the doorpost at the entrance to the synagogue (and to the doorposts at the entrances to most rooms).   You will find it on the upper third of the right-hand doorpost as you enter.[i] It will be mounted at an angle, with the top to­ward the inside.   The word mezzuzah literally means "doorpost," but it is most commonly used to refer to the container.

The container holds a parchment on which is written Deuteron­omy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.   This text (which is also inside the t'fillin) is the begin­ning of the Sh'ma prayer.   The full significance of this text is described later, in the discus­sion of the Sh'ma prayer.

Many Jews follow the custom of kissing the mezzuzah when they enter and leave.   This is done by touching their fingertips first to the mezzuzah and then to their lips.

The mezzuzah has nothing to do with the synagogue.   It is present in all Jewish homes (and most buildings owned by Jews).   Affixing a mez­zuzah is an explicit bibli­cal commandment.[ii]

In addition to its significance as an emblem of the val­ues contained in the Sh'ma prayer, a mezzuzah evokes warm sentiments as a symbol of a traditional home, and as an appeal to divine sheltering protection (because it is reminis­cent of the protection from the last plague of the Exodus).

Judaism employs many beloved objects in the perfor­mance of ritual, but objects are not intrinsically holy in Judaism.   Ob­jects can not cure, protect, or magically strengthen in any way.   Neither can the ritual acts that use objects.   Objects enable people to experience their own holiness, which they in turn can use to sanctify time.   In contrast, the words of the Torah are considered holy.   Therefore, objects that contain them, such as Torah scrolls, t'fillin, and Mezzuzot are treated with reverence.

The Mezuzah of Onkelos

When Onkelos ben Kalonymous [author of the Targums[iii]] became a Jew-by-Choice, Caesar sent a militia to take him back to Rome.   But Onkelos persuaded the militia-men to become Jews.   Caesar sent another milita, warning them not to engage Onkelos in conversation.   As they were escorting him in proper Roman order, Onkelos asked, "Who carries the light for whom?"   They replied, "The torch-bearing slave leads, then comes the lecticarius carrying the light for the dux, the dux carries the light for the hegemon, the hegemon for the comes."   "Does the comes then carry the light for the people?" asked Onkelos.   "No," said the soldiers.   Said Onkelos: "Our Leader is different.   The Holy One, Blessed be He, carries light for the people Israel, as it is written, 'And the LORD went before them in a pillar of cloud...' [Exodus 13:21]".   And the soldiers became Jews.

Caesar, now completely enraged, ordered another militia to take Onkelos, and ordered them not to speak with him at all.   They handled Onkelos roughly, bound him, heaved him over their shoulders, and began to carry him out of the house.   Yet he managed to kiss the mezzuzah on his doorpost as he was being carried off.   This curious behavior aroused the soldiers to ask what the strange object was.   He answered: "It is customary with a human king that while he is sitting inside his palace his servants guard him outside.   With our King, The Holy One, Blessed be He, it is the opposite.   His servants are inside, and He guards them from the outside, as it is written, 'The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in...' [Psalms 121:8]".   These soldiers also became Jews.   And Caesar did not send any more after him.

From the Talmud, tractate Avodah Zara, folio 11a-b;
retold in Chibbur Yafeh and many other places.

Mezzuzot (plural of mezzuzah) can also be works of art.   Because Jewish Tradition emphasizes the art of living and deemphasizes representative art, Jewish visual artistry has traditionally focused on calligraphy and on beautifying ritual objects.   There is a principle that commandments should be ful­filled in the most beautiful way possible. [iv] We should max­imize the delight in their perfor­mance.   A counterbalancing principle holds that the intention of doing a mitzvah (fulfilling a divine commandment) should itself be the greatest possible delight.[v] In any case, Jews appreciate beautiful ritual objects, even though the simplest examples have un­equalled beauty in their purpose.  

Mezzuzot can be found in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials, and designs -- from playful ceramic animals for children's rooms, to exquisite silver and glass creations for adult apprecia­tion.   The parchment inside a mezzuzah always reflects the holy intent and concentration of the scribe.   Mezzuzot on exterior doorposts and in public buildings are likely to have simple inexpensive cases.

[i] c.f., Sifre Deuteronomy, Piska 36:  "of thy house...".

[ii] c.f., Deuteronomy 6; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 291:1.

[iii] An important series of Aramaic interpretive translations of the Torah.

[iv] The principle of inner glorification is called hiddur mitzvah, of outer beautification noi mitzvah. C.f., Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 9:1 re: Exodus 15:2.

[v] c.f., Sifre Deuteronomy, Piska 36:  "precious are Israel..."

--- adapted from "The Synagogue Survival Kit" by Jordan Lee Wagner, publ. by Rowman & Littlefield. 1997.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 August 2011 00:52

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