Parshat Vaetchanan: The real mezuzah

Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen
Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen (Courtesy of Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen)

By Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen

Queen Elizabeth II has a mezuzah in her bedroom. There is a mezuzah on the entry to the White House. There’s a mezuzah leading into every room in the Kremlin. Even our avowed atheist neighbor has one that all the neighborhood can see.

I will try to explain.

The word “mezuzah” means doorpost. In this week’s parshah we read: “And you shall write them on the doorposts (mezuzot) of your homes and your gates.” So if we’re to be linguistic nitpickers, the scroll is affixed to the mezuzah; it is not the mezuzah itself.

So indeed, the above locations all have mezuzot — doorposts, as does practically every other building as well.

We humans think of ourselves and our world as primary, and then we look to see where — and if — G-d fits into the picture. Yet Chassidism emphasizes that G-d has a plan — a passionate, inexplicable, irreplaceable desire that this world be transformed into a welcoming home for Him. That’s why He created it. All of creation exists only to exhibit G-d.

How do we expose the Divine spark within everything? By using it for a mitzvah or G-dly purpose. Every time we use a physical resource for something G-dly, we illustrate its true character: a tool for us to discover the holy spark buried within.

It’s a pretty clever idea. Divinity, while exciting, often seems too spiritual for the average person to grasp. When presented with it, we just stare in awe. Materiality, on the other hand, we get. So G-d embeds Himself in physical objects, and when we use them according to His instructions, we find Him.

So maybe we have it right. Maybe the doorpost is only called a mezuzah to emphasize that its true existence is realized by enabling a mitzvah. If not for the scrolls, there would be no reason for plain old doorposts.

And so it goes with all things, there are two perspectives: 1) I am, so when I earn money, I buy what I need, and maybe I’ll give some to charity. Or, 2) G-d is, and He has embedded Himself in cash as a way for me to discover Him. When I earn money, I first give one-tenth to charity and then use the remaining, now uplifted money for my own needs.

G-d’s wish: Don’t view the mezuzah as an accessory to your house, rather see your house as a mezuzah holder.

Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen is the co-director of Chabad of Owings Mills.

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