Shiur #51: The Mitzva of Mezuza (Part I)

  • Harav Baruch Gigi
I. The Protection Offered by a Mezuza
 
We are currently engaged in a clarification of the system of mitzvot, in the framework of the transition in Keriyat Shema from matters pertaining to the Rambam's Sefer Mada to matters pertaining to his Sefer Ahava.  Thus far, we have studied the mitzva of tefillin and its unique meanings. Now, let us turn to a closely-related mitzva – the mitzva of mezuza.
 
One of the central ideas relating to mezuza is the idea of protection. When one affixes a mezuza to the entrance of his home, his house and household are protected from all trouble and damage. This idea is expressed by Chazal in several contexts, and it is based, as we will demonstrate, on a connection that is already rooted in the verses of the Torah.
 
At the end of the passage of Ve-haya im shamo'a, it is stated:
 
And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates; that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, upon the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as the days of the heavens above the earth. (Devarim 11:20-21)
 
At first glance, it seems that the Torah's promise of longevity relates to all that was stated in this passage concerning one who obeys all of God's commandments and follows His ways.
 
However, Chazal linked this promise directly to the mitzva of mezuza. Two talmudic passages establish a connection between longevity and the mitzva of mezuza.
 
In tractate Shabbat (32b), it is taught that a person's children die because of a failure to fulfill the mitzva of mezuza.[1] This is learned from the juxtaposition of the commandment of mezuza to the verse that promises that "your days will be multiplied, and the days of your children." In a positive formulation, the Tur writes:
 
Whoever is careful about it, his days and the days of his children will be lengthened, as it is written: "That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children." (Tur, Yoreh De'ah 285)
 
In tractate Kiddushin (34a), the gemara discusses the possibility of exempting women from the mitzva of mezuza. At first, the gemara is of the opinion that women are exempt, in view of the Torah's juxtaposition of the mitzva of mezuza to the mitzva of Torah study, from which women are exempt. However, the gemara rejects this possibility with the following argument:
 
You cannot think so, because it is written: ["And You shall write them upon the doorposts of your house…] that your days may be multiplied." Do men only need life, and not women? (Kiddushin 34a)
 
In this gemara as well, we clearly see that the promise of longevity in relation to the mitzva of mezuza is so central that there is no room even to entertain the possibility that women may be exempt from it. For by removing women from the mitzva of mezuza you would be removing them from the basic desire of existence, of life.
 
The Tur adds:
 
Moreover, one's house is protected by it, as they expounded the verse: "The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade upon your right hand" (Tehillim 121:5). (Tur, ibid.)
 
II. The Rambam's View
 
The Rambam famously writes:
 
It is a common custom to write [God's name] Shaddai on the outside of a mezuza, opposite the empty space left between the two passages. There is no difficulty in this, since the addition is made on the outside.
However, those who write the names of angels, other sacred names, verses, or forms,[2] on the inside [of a mezuza] are among those who do not have a portion in the World-to-Come. Not only do these fools nullify the mitzva, but furthermore, they make from a great mitzva that reflects the unity of the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, the love of Him, and the service of Him, a talisman for their own benefit. They, in their foolish conception, think that this will help them regarding the vanities of the world. (Hilkhot Tefillin U-Mezuza 5:4)
 
The Kesef Mishneh (ad loc.) cites the objection raised by the Ramach against the Rambam based on the gemara in Avoda Zara (11a). The gemara there records a story about Onkelos, who became a proselyte, and the emperor sent a contingent of soldiers after him. Among other things, it is stated there:
 
Again he sent another cohort ordering them not to enter into any conversation whatever with him. So they took hold of him; and as they were walking on, he saw the mezuza that was fixed on the door frame and he placed his hand on it saying to them, “Now what is this?” And they replied, “You tell us then.” He said to them, “According to universal custom, the mortal king dwells within, and his servants keep guard on him without; but [in the case of] the Holy One, blessed is He, it is His servants who dwell within while He keeps guard on them from without, as it is stated: ‘The Lord shall guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and for evermore’ (Tehillim 121:8).” Then they, too, were converted to Judaism. (Avoda Zara 11a)
 
From the difficulty raised by the Ramach, it may be concluded that in his opinion the Rambam rejects the idea of protection that is attributed to the mezuza. The Rambam views the mezuza as an expression of man's connection to God, in that he declares at the entrance to his house his faith in His unity and his love for Him, two of the foundations of His service. According to the Ramach, the Rambam rejects the talismanic qualities that were attributed to the mezuza by the ancients.
 
The Ramach attacks the Rambam's position, as he understood it, on the grounds that the idea of protection is brought in the gemara itself:
 
For in tractate Avoda Zara it is implied from that which Onkelos said to the Roman contingent that the Holy One, blessed is He, makes the mezuza to protect Israel from the outside. And one can force an answer that it was Onkelos who said this in order give importance to Israel. (Ramach, ad loc.)
 
In light of this, the Ramach struggles to reconcile the Rambam's position, arguing that Onkelos said this to the Romans only in order to praise Israel in their eyes. Onkelos told the Romans that the mezuza symbolizes God's protection, as it were, over the houses of Israel. In truth, however, the mitzva of mezuza is not a matter of God's protection, but rather an expression of a person's faith in God's unity and service.
 
It stands to reason, however, that the Rambam does not challenge the very idea of the protection offered by a mezuza. Thus writes the Kesef Mishneh in light of the fact that the gemara in Menachot uses this principle to determine the halakha regarding the proper placement of a mezuza:
 
For in chapter Ha-Kometz (33b), regarding the rule that a mezuza must be placed in the handbreadth adjacent to the public domain, R. Huna said: “What is the reason? So that it may protect him.”[3] Therefore you must say that in fact a mezuza protects the house when it is written properly. (Kesef Mishneh)
 
In the Kesef Mishneh's opinion, the Rambam rejects only those actions that expanded the talismanic element of a mezuza – namely, the insertion of the names of the angels into the mezuza. The Rambam sees the protective quality of a mezuza in the connection between man and God and his belief in Him and His unity.
 
In the continuation of our discussion, we will explain the idea of the protection offered by a mezuza with greater precision and in greater depth.
 
III. Additional Sources
 
The Yerushalmi states in tractate Pe'ah:
 
Artaban sent to our holy Rabbi an invaluably precious pearl. He said to him: Send me something which is similarly precious. He sent him a mezuza. He said to him: What I have sent you is something priceless, but you have sent me something which is only worth one follis. He [Rabbi] said to him: Your treasures and my treasures are incomparable. And moreover, you have sent me something that I have to guard, while I have sent you something which guards you when you sleep, as it is written: "When you walk, it will lead you; when you lie down, it will watch over you; and when you awake, it will talk to you" (Mishlei 6:22). (Yerushalmi, Pe'ah 1:1)
 
Similarly, the Tur writes in Hilkhot Mezuza:
 
Moreover, one's house is protected by it, as they expounded the verse: "The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade upon your right hand" (Tehillim 121:5). A mortal king dwells within, and his servants keep guard on him without; but you sleep in your beds and the Holy One, blessed is He, guards you from without. Therefore, it should be placed in the outermost handbreadth, so that the entire house be within it and under its protection. (Tur, Yoreh De'ah 285)
 
The prevalent custom to write on the outside of the mezuza parchment the name ShaDaY – which is expounded as an abbreviation for the words: Shomer Delatot Yisrael, "Who guards the doors of Israel"[4] – also reinforces this idea of a mezuza as protecting a person's home.
 
As stated, the basis of this idea is already found in the verses of the Torah. Even though the Torah does not mention the idea of protection in direct connection to the mitzva of mezuza, it is mentioned in connection with another mezuza. In Parashat Bo, God commands the people of Israel to place the blood of the paschal lamb on the two doorposts and lintel. The reason for this is explained as follows:
 
And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. (Shemot 12:13)
 
And later in the same chapter:
 
For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood upon the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you. (Shemot 12:23)
 
It is further stated at the end of that chapter:
 
It was a night of watching to the Lord for bringing them out from the land of Egypt; this same night is a night of watching to the Lord for all the children of Israel throughout their generations. (Shemot 12:42)
 
Rashi writes:
 
"A night of watching to the Lord for all the children of Israel throughout their generations" – This night is protected, and comes as such from ages past, against all destructive forces, as it is stated: "And He will not suffer the destroyer to enter your houses" (v. 33). (Rashi, ad loc.)
 
IV. The Mezuza and the Paschal Offering
 
On the night of the exodus from Egypt, God protected the houses of the people of Israel by way of the sign of the blood on the doorposts and lintels, and because of this the night became a night of watching for all generations.[5]
 
At first glance, it seems that the common denominator between the mitzva of mezuza and the paschal offering is that in both cases we are commanded to place a specific thing on the doorpost, thereby securing the protection of the house and its inhabitants.
 
On the deeper level, it seems that the connection between the mitzva of mezuza and the paschal offering is more substantive.
 
What is the significance of placing blood on the doorposts and lintel of one's house? The paschal offering that the people of Israel brought in Egypt was sacrificed as a family offering, a sheep for each family, at the entrance to each family's home. In Egypt, of course, there was no Temple and no altar. Therefore, it seems that the meaning of the blood was to distinguish between the houses of the Israelites and the houses of the Egyptians, in order to prevent the destroyer from coming into the homes of the Israelites to attack.
 
However, the possibility that the blood was meant to distinguish between the houses of Israel and the houses of Egypt raises a great difficulty, in light of the midrashim of Chazal, which indicate that God Himself passed through the land of Egypt. He certainly did not need a distinguishing sign. So writes the Beit Yosef in his book, Maggid Meisharim:
 
As for the difficulty with the verse, "And when I see the blood, I will pass over you," why was a sign needed, for surely everything is revealed to Him? It may be suggested that a sign was needed for the angels who came with Him. It may further be objected that this sign was with blood, which is a sign of death, the opposite of what they wanted. And furthermore, the sign should have been on the outside, and this sign was on the inside. But the secret of the matter is that the Holy One, blessed be He, wanted them to trust in Him and place the blood on the door from the inside. This is what is written: "And the blood shall be to you for a token." And instead of being afraid when they see the blood on the door, on the contrary they should trust their Master who commanded them to do this, so that He would be a salvation for them. This merit of trusting God would protect them. This is the meaning of what is written: "And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you." That is to say, I will see the merit of your trust, that the blood that is a sign of death will be for you a sign of life when you trust the words of your Master. And for this reason, "when I see the blood, I will pass over you." (Maggid Meisharim, Parashat Bo)
 
It seems that trust in God involves not only doing the action required by God on the simple level. What we have here is an important and profound principle, in light of the gemara in Pesachim:
 
R. Yosef taught: There were three altars there, on the lintel and on the two doorposts. (Pesachim 96a)
 
A broader picture emerges from the gemara. The paschal offering brought in Egypt was a sacrifice offered at the entrance of a person's house, his house serving as the Temple, and the entrance to his house being the altar. While Chazal speak of three altars, it seems more accurate to say that they are referring to the three corners of the altar.
 
The people of Israel are commanded to see their homes as the house of God. With their trust in God, they express the strength of their connection to Him by seeing their homes as God's house. And if their house is the house of God, then the entrance to the house is an altar, and they put of the blood on the three corners of the altar – the lintel and the two doorposts.
 
This view, which sanctifies the houses of the people of Israel as the Temple, is similar to what is stated: "In every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you" (Shemot 20:20). In this way, the house becomes the basis of the covenant that is being formed between God and His people, by virtue of their seeking His presence within them.
 
If we are correct, it stands to reason that the idea of the protection offered by a mezuza has a more fundamental and inner meaning. A person turns his house into a house of God, and a house of God is protected, as is stated in Tehillim:
 
A Song of Ascents; of Shelomo. Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. (Tehillim 127:1)
 
God's protection is protection, and there is no other, it alone being considered true protection.
 
These words connect with the words of the Rambam in Hilkhot Beit Ha-Bechira, that the guarding in the Temple was merely a display of honor, and not needed for the protection it offered, since the house of God is not in need of protection:
 
There is a positive mitzva to guard the Temple. [This mitzvah applies] even though there is no fear of enemies or thieves, for the guarding [of the Temple] is an expression of respect for it. A palace with guards is [much more impressive] than a palace without guards. (Rambam, Hilkhot Beit Ha-Bechira 8:1)
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 
 

[1] The gemara there states as follows: "R. Chiya bar Abba and R. Yose disagree. One says: It is for the sin of neglect of mezuza [that a person's children die]; while the other says: It is for the sin of the neglect of Torah… It is well according to the one who says: It is for the sin of the neglect of mezuza, for it is written: 'And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house,' which is followed by: 'that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children'" (Shabbat 32b).
[2] The Rambam is referring here to the ancient practice of inserting all kinds of additions into the mezuza. Rabbeinu Eliezer of Metz writes as follows: "It is common practice to add seals and the names of the angels at the end of the Bible verses contained in the mezuza for the sake of the increased security of the home. This is not indispensible, nor even a mitzva, but simply serves as additional protection" (Yere'im 400). He then spells out in great detail the names of the angels and where precisely they were inserted in the mezuza. 
[3] According to the Ramach's understanding of the Rambam, it may be suggested that this does not mean that a mezuza protects a person, but rather that a person should be reminded of the principles of his faith whenever he goes in or out of his house.
[4] See Kolbo: "The reason that we write this name more than the others is that it is an abbreviation for Shomer Dirat Yisrael, "Who guards the dwelling of Israel" (Kolbo, Mezuza 90).
[5] Establishing this night as a night of watching has halakhic ramifications in a number of contexts. This is true regarding the recitation of Shema before going to sleep and regarding the Me-Ein Sheva blessing on the night of the Seder when it falls out on Friday night. Many halakhic authorities rule that one should not say the Me-Ein Sheva blessing on the night of the Seder, since it is a night of watching that does not require protection.