The Word of God Reveals the Heart of God

Ashkenazi-style Mezuzah, B'er Chayim Temple, Cumberland, Maryland
Ashkenazi-style Mezuzah, B'er Chayim Temple, Cumberland, Maryland (photo: Image Credit: “Bohemian Baltimore”, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

On March 7, 2008, Fr. Rainero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, commented in the Lenten meditation he delivered to Pope Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia that the Bible is the most infallible spiritual director.

In his homily, Fr. Cantalamessa compared reading Scripture to looking into a mirror. When we look into "the mirror of the Word, we do not only see ourselves; we see the face of God; better, we see the heart of God."

He went on to explain that "God has spoken to us in Scripture of that which fills His heart, and that which fills His heart is love." Thus, the Bible serves us as a spiritual guide and in the life of the believer, "the words of God, by the present action of the Spirit, become the expression of the living will of God."

Thus saith the preacher.

Before going on a trip to Israel, a Jewish friend requested I bring him back a mezuzah (מזוזה‎, Hebrew: "doorpost;" plural: מזוזות mezuzot) from Jerusalem for him. For Christians not in the know, and those who do not have the benefit of having Jewish friends, a mezuzah is a small container Jews affix to their doorposts which contains a scroll, known as the klaf, upon which a scriptural passage has been inscribed. When a Jew passes through a door upon which the mezuzah is affixed, he or she should touch the mezuzah and bring his fingers to his lips in the act of kissing it; a beautiful sign of respect and devotion for the Word of God. The mezuzah stands as a silent but powerful witnesses to a love of the Word of God, His Law and His faithfulness.

As a New Yorker and having spent time in Israel, I consider myself a connoisseur of fine mezuzot (I'm also a connoisseur of fine falafel, schwarma, kreplach and matzo ball soup, but that's the topic of another article in a different type of journal.) Some mezuzot are magnificent works of art, while others are plain, utilitarian and look mass-produced.

I walked through one of the many colorful bazaars near the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the first major temple dedicated to God. I stopped at one store that had a nice collection of mezuzot for sale. Almost immediately, a young, friendly gentleman in yarmulke and earlocks who tended the store offered to assist me. He introduced himself as Rotem.

I looked over the beautiful collection of mezuzot available and finally decided upon several tasteful and dignified ones for my friends. I asked Rotem to wrap them up for me.

And then I asked my first stupid question.

"Do these have to be blessed?"

Rotem looked at me as if I had suddenly sprouted a second head and that second head decided to ask the stupidest question in the world. His surprise dissipated as realization dawned upon him; the cat was out of the bag big time…I was goyim.

Despite my abject ignorance, Rotem gently and graciously explained the history and significance of the mezuzah.

According to halakha (הלכה; Hebrew: Jewish religious law,) Jewish families are directed to affix a mezuzah upon the doorposts of their homes in order to fulfill a Biblical injunction. (Deuteronomy 6:9)

The mezuzah's klaf, or "parchment," upon which a scriptural passage is inscribed (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21) which is referred to as the Shema Yisrael and speaks of the believer's relationship with God and the bountiful grace that awaits those who put their trust in the Almighty.

To be kosher, the tiny document must be written in indelible black ink with a quill pen and prepared by a specialized scribe known as a sofer, (סת'ם) who has been specially trained in the art. By virtue of the significance of the scriptural passage inside it and the prayers used by the scribe who penned it, the mezuzah doesn't need to be additionally blessed.

The klaf should be inspected before installing it in the mezuzah to make sure it isn't damaged. A torn or stained klaf is no longer kosher and must be replaced. After it is inspected, it must be wrapped in plastic wrap before installing it in the mezuzah in order to protect it from the rain. Orthodox Jews will ask a sofer to examine the klaf for defects at least twice every seven years and replace it if necessary.

Though many Jewish families affix the mezuzah to their front door, technically, it can be, and, in fact, should be, used on every door of one's home and work. Bathrooms, crawlspaces and small closets are exempt.

The mezuzah must be affixed to the right side of the door, from the perspective of the person entering through the door. It should be placed high in the upper third of the doorpost, usually around shoulder height on the average person and within three-inches of the door jam.

Actually, Jews living in the Diaspora, that is, outside of Israel, must affix a mezuzah to their doorposts within thirty-days of moving into a rented home. Jews living in a purchased home in the Diaspora, or any residence in Israel should affix a mezuzah as soon as they move in.

Two other inscriptions can be found on the klaf 's reverse: 1) the Hebrew word שדי (Shaddai) one of the names of God as identified in Exodus 6:3 and 2) the phrase כוזו במוכסז כוזו. The later is a simple substitution encryption abbreviation for the third, fourth and fifth words of the Shema prayer: "Adonai, Eloheinu, Adonai" which means "The Lord, our God, the Lord." This inscription is actually Kabbalistic in origin and was instituted in the 11th century.

It's not uncommon for the mezuzah to be also marked in some way with the Hebrew letter Shin ש the first letter of God's Name "Shaddai." Rotem went on to explain that a blessing should be read when affixing the mezuzah to the doorpost:

‫בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשַׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָנוּ לִקְבּוֹעַ מְזוּזָה

Baruch atta Adonai Eloheinu melech ha'olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu likboa' mezuza.

‫Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and command us to affix a mezuzah.

As I considered everything Rotem told me, I came to see the beautiful significance of the mezuzah and decided I wanted one also. I looked over his collection one more time and chose one that caught my attention; it was a glass tube through which, the klaf was easily seen. I thanked Rotem and left his store with my treasures in hand. When I got home, I installed my mezuzah on my office door where it reminds me of my duty to God and to His children…it's also a great conversation-starter.

The mezuzah is the physical embodiment of God's promise of a Messiah to save the Faithful. It is a message of hope and faith and love. Exactly in the same way in which Christians understand Christ. As Jesus is the Word of God and the embodiment of Law, it follows that in displaying the mezuzah, we attest to Christ, both in form and function.

If, as Fr. Cantalamessa taught, that in scripture we see the heart of God, then it follows that in contemplating and giving respect to the mezuzah as the Word of God, we see Christ. The mezuzah becomes an apt and profound symbol of Christ. The mezuzah becomes a mirror into which we might see the heart of God.

Certainly Christians are not tied to Mosaic Law as our Jewish brothers and sisters are but, nonetheless, this custom to which even secular Jews lovingly and dutifully adhere, might offer us an opportunity to reclaim a part of our spiritual past. Some of us might even be prompted to create our own, Christianized version of the mezuzah to bear witness to our own faith, offer solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters and to serve as a reminder of our Jewish roots. If we chose to live by the Word of God, then our joy should prompt us to bear witness to our faith. Jesus was, after all, a nice Jewish boy and Mary was a good Jewish mother who most assuredly kept a mezuzah on their doorpost as was commanded by God.

The Shema

Israel, remember this! The Lord—and the Lord alone—is our God. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. So then, obey the commands that I have given you today; love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart. If you do, He will send rain on your land when it is needed, in the autumn and in the spring, so that there will be grain, wine, and olive oil for you, and grass for your livestock. You will have all the food you want. Do not let yourselves be led away from the Lord to worship and serve other gods. If you do, the Lord will become angry with you. He will hold back the rain, and your ground will become too dry for crops to grow. Then you will soon die there, even though it is a good land that He is giving you. "Remember these commands and cherish them. Tie them on your arms and wear them on your foreheads as a reminder. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you are resting and when you are working. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates. Then you and your children will live a long time in the land that the Lord your God promised to give to your ancestors. You will live there as long as there is a sky above the earth. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21)

שׁמע ישׂראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד ׃‪  ואהבת את יהוה אלהיך בכל־לבבך ובכל־נפשׁך ובכל־מאדך ׃ ‪ היו הדברים האלה אשׁר אנכי מצוך היום על־לבבך ׃‪  ושׁננתם לבניך ודברת בם בשׁבתך בביתך ובלכתך בדרך ובשׁכבך ובקומך ׃‪  וקשׁרתם לאות על־ידך והיו לטטפת בין עיניך׃‪  וכתבתם על־מזזות ביתך ובשׁעריך ׃‪  והיה אם־שׁמע תשׁמעו אל־מצותי אשׁר אנכי מצוה אתכם היום לאהבה את־יהוה אלהיכם ולעבדו בכל־לבבכם ובכל־נפשׁכם׃‪  ונתתי מטר־ארצכם בעתו יורה ומלקושׁ ואספת דגנך ותירשׁך ויצהרך ׃‪  ונתתי עשׂב בשׂדך לבהמתך ואכלת ושׂבעת ׃‪  השׁמרו לכם פן יפתה לבבכם וסרתם ועבדתם אלהים אחרים והשׁתחויתם להם׃‪  וחרה אף־יהוה בכם ועצר את־השׁמים ולא־יהיה מטר והאדמה לא תתן את־יבולה ואבדתם מהרה מעל הארץ הטבה אשׁר יהוה נתן לכם  ׃ ‪ ושׂמתם את־דברי אלה על־לבבכם ועל־נפשׁכם וקשׁרתם אתם לאות על־ידכם והיו לטוטפת בין עיניכם ׃‪  ולמדתם אתם את־בניכם לדבר בם בשׁבתך בביתך ובלכתך בדרך ובשׁכבך ובקומך ׃‪  וכתבתם על־מזוזות ביתך ובשׁעריך ׃‪  למען ירבו ימיכם וימי בניכם על האדמה אשׁר נשׁבע יהוה לאבתיכם לתת להם כימי השׁמים על־הארץ ׃