Jewish people have this custom of affixing a small box to our doorframes and entrance gates. It usually is a slim, oblong container that can be made from various materials such as plastic, wood, ceramics or metal, including pure silver or gold. I also have one carved from beautiful Jerusalem stone. They can be very simple or elaborate and decorative. Although the word mezuzah (pronounced mah-zooz-ah) originally denoted the doorpost itself, the name now is ascribed to this container. The etymology of the word is unclear. Interestingly, the emphasized central syllable zuz is the Hebrew word meaning move. Indeed, the mezuzah marks the place of a threshold, indicating movement from one place to another; which renders it a perfect symbol for a liminal space!
As are most Jewish customs, that of attaching a mezuzah to the doorposts of one’s home (except the bathroom), arose from response to, and in fulfillment of, a commandment of God given in His Torah [teaching or instruction, as recorded in the first five books of the Bible].
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. …You shall write them on the doorposts [mezuzot] of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:4,9)
These words are included in the verses that comprise the Shemah (Deut. 6:4-9), which, together with verses 11-21 from chapter 11, are meticulously handwritten by a professional scribe on a small parchment scroll, called a klaf, which is housed inside the mezuzah. If the klaf can be seen, e.g., through a glass or clear plastic mezuzah, the scribe writes the letters ש-ד-י (shin–dalet–yod) on the outside of the rolled up scroll. The letters form the word Shaddai, a name for God; they also are an acronym for Shomer Dlatot Yisrael – Guardian of the Doors of Israel. On ceramic or metal mezuzot, just the letter shin suffices as a reminder of Who is guarding one’s door!
Being affixed in these strategic positions, the mezuzot are the most prominent religious objects in the home and those most often seen by all the family. This applies publically as well for those of us blessed to live in the Jewish homeland of Israel. Situated at thresholds, the mezuzah is there as a quiet reminder, when one moves, often briskly, from one space to another, that life itself is a “limen” – a transition from one place to the next – from Olam HaZeh (this world) to Olam HaBa (the World to Come). In order to help us remember it is there and the truth it conveys, people often pause, however fleetingly, and touch the mezuzah with a kiss of the fingertips. This helps, in the hectic pace of our days, to constantly keep the reality in mind that we simply are passing through this life and should not lose sight of the eternal perspective and the deeper meaning of our journey.
The pause, thus, is a remembrance of the necessary connection of the physical and spiritual aspects of life. In our physical existence on earth we are bound by the limitations of space and time. We can become so focussed on our bodily, physical needs and demands that we forget the reality that we, essentially, are spiritual beings encased in physical bodies. Our spirits also need feeding and nurture in order to grow and flourish. Our spiritual food is the Word of God, the bread from Heaven our Father provided for this very purpose. The mezuzah perfectly pictures this in its form as an outer container housing precious words of God.
The kiss on one’s fingertips is to acknowledge, in love, the One whose idea it was to place His Word at every threshold and thereby to reassure us of His Presence. As we leave the sanctuary of our homes and go out into the uncertain world, we can trust that He is there constantly watching and is with us. We therefore pause, gratefully, to acknowledge His faithfulness with a touch and a kiss.
A final point to ponder. The mezuzah also is a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelite families who were for God, and were ready to obey His will, followed the detailed commands given to Moses. They were to take a lamb into their home for four days and, on the prescribed day, when they needed to be packed and dressed for the journey, they were to slaughter the lamb and daub its blood on their doorposts. Then they were to roast the lamb, enjoy a meal together, and be ready to leave when the signal was given. The blood of the lamb on the doorframe was the sign of their obedience to God. On seeing this, the Angel of Death would pass over them. Then, at a given signal, in a mighty deliverance of God, they would all go forth across the threshold, the great liminal space, from slavery into freedom. They would cross over from the cruelty and crippling physical demands of Pharaoh to the free open space of service to their Creator. They would be free to worship their loving Redeemer, in whose image they were made.
Today, the times we live in often are dangerous. The evidence of cruelty and evil we are witness to is heartbreaking. Now, more than ever, we need sure and constant reminders that affirm and strengthen our knowledge of who we are as beloved children of the Almighty God. We need to know that, in our going, as we “live and move and have our being in Him,” we can “pause” and bring blessing, including into any situation of pain and injustice. We can do this with “a touch and a kiss” in the spirit of chesed – the fiery power of our Father’s love expressed in tender, compassionate action.