19 Kislev, 5774
November 22nd, 2013
On the doorposts of Jewish homes, at eye level, is a small rectangular container. The box’s construction is a matter of taste; what’s inside is not. Every mezuzah that has or will be written says the same thing.*
The mezuzah is a paradox. Its irony is that its purpose is to remind us of the words of Torah. But each mezuzah holds those words on its inside, locked away from our view. When we look at the mezuzah, we cannot see the words we are told to remember.
I think that for many people this opacity is frustrating metaphor for their experience with Judaism. Why doesn’t the Torah just make meaning accessible? Why can’t we easily get at real wisdom? Why is the mezuzah closed to us?
In the mezuzah, I see a wry realization. Even if the words were to be made plain to me, I wouldn’t understand them. “Listen, Israel, HaShem is our God, God is One,” “And you will love HaShem your God, will all your heart, with your life, and with all that you own” – these aren’t just verses, they are a travelogue. They gain their meaning through the context of the journey taken to understand them.
Because wisdom is simple does not mean that it is accessible; there are no shortcuts on the road to that which is wise. But in the moments when we get there, we don’t see a sealed box. Instead we smile, because we look inside and know that we’ve fulfilled the Ve’Ahavta’s most important mitzvah, “and these words that I command you this day will be on your heart.”
* the words of the Shma (Listen Israel), the Ve’Ahavta (And You Will Love), and the VeHaya Im Shamoa (If You Listen – the lesser known text that talks about consequences for actions). In these holy words lies the command for the mezuzah itself. “You shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and your gates.”