Mezuzah is a Hebrew word for a doorframe but it’s a roll of a parchment – a scroll – onto which there’s an inscription of Torah verses or ‘Shema’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21). The case that encloses the parchment can also be referred to as a mezuzah.
The Torah requires you to place a mezuzah on all gateposts and doorframes of your home or sanctuary but not in bathrooms, laundry, boiler rooms or closets (Deuteronomy 6:9; 11:20). This means you must affix a mezuzah in every doorframe of your living space. In other words, attach a mezuzah on every door that has a lintel resting on top of two posts.
You must also place it as soon as you move into a new residence. Don’t wait for more than 30 days, especially if you’re going to reside permanently. Business and commercial spaces don’t require a mezuzah. However, if you reside away from home, and you consider your residence as a home, as in a college dormitory or a rental apartment, you must place a mezuzah.
And if you’re moving out and you’re aware that another Jewish family is moving in, leave your mezuzah’s in place. However, if a non-Jewish family is moving in, you should remove all mezuzahs, else they’ll do on your behalf.
How to Conduct Mezuzah Mitzvah
Mitzvah is a brief ritual, which involves nailing or gluing the mezuzah on the right-hand doorframe. Recite the following prayer as you lead others in performing the mezuzah mitzvah:
Baruch ata Adonai Elohainu melech ha-olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu likboa mezuzah.
Others answer ‘Amen.’ Then, you can nail or glue a mezuzah, and it’s as simple as that.
You can spice up your mezuzah ritual with dancing, singing, reading special verses of the Torah. Dedicate or rededicate your house to the Lord, just as the Maccabees did when they rededicated the Second Temple.
No matter whether your bedroom doors have a left or right hinges, as long as it faces a hallway, you must nail the mezuzah to the right-hand doorframe, so you face it as you enter.
To ensure any person who sees a mezuzah as s/he enters a room, you must place it about six feet above the floor level. The bottom part of the case should face you as you face the right doorframe. Just be sure to attach mezuzah firmly, so it doesn’t fall.
Purposes of a Mezuzah
The mezuzah serves two main purposes:
- Commemorates the covenant between God and man. The Shema reflects the Greatest Commandment (Mark 12:30).
- Symbolizes a household whose constitution follow Jewish customs, rituals and beliefs. God chose Israel – a privilege other nations of the world lack. It’s difficult to separate Jewish way of life from God’s Laws.
A mezuzah wasn’t meant to serve as a charm or a superstition tool. Some people even interpret lack thereof as a sign of divine punishment. It’s usual to find people believing that evil or darkness originates from public domain (reshut ha’rabim), and can enter your private domain (reshut ha’ycahid) if you don’t attach mezuzah to your doorframe.
The basis of this reasoning is that God hides behind darkness (Isaiah 45:15). God withdrew the Light (not completely, though), because He wanted people to have freedom to choose – freewill. But freewill came with a great cost – evil, which came by default as a result of creation. And evil goes hand in hand with darkness. God gave man the ability to distinguish right from wrong after Adam and Eve ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.
In a way, God gave us a task – find Him. But the task wasn’t straightforward –it was uphill in a sense that man has had a tendency to depend on him- or her-self – not on God. To avoid killing darkness or evil, God retained a small portion of the Light to illuminate or nourish us from time and time.
But evil spirits have been taking advantage of the “leftovers”. We’ve been receiving smaller portions from generations to generations as we work our way to perfection. Until when we’ll be fully illuminated is when we’ll be holy but that would have killed evil completely in us.
So, here’s how a mezuzah comes in.
Your home is a small temple, and your door opens to an unknown world. But this shouldn’t be the case, the door leaks portions of holiness to the outside world. The evil forces, which reside outside your home, receive nourishment from light emanating from your home. The mezuzah serves to focus the light, making a ray that’s strong enough to blind and chase away evil spirits, just as the full Light would.
But Where Does the Mezuzah Come From? Who Writes it?
A kosher scribe who’s well versed in halacha handwrites Hebrew text in a letter format on one side of the parchment. Only the word ‘shaddai’ appears on the opposite side. The word should face you once you roll the parchment. There’s nothing special about the case containing the parchment, as you can customize it to any material, shape or size.
Hebrew scripts are written and read from right to left. It’s important you roll the parchment from left to right, so last words don’t appear first when unrolled. Unrolling occurs every three-and-half years to check whether texts have faded, so you shouldn’t seal the case permanently.
We’ve learned why a mezuzah is important part of a Jewish household. Conducting a mitzvah of mezuzah is a straightforward process, and doesn’t take much time. But you can make the ritual more lively. The mezuzah can chase away and blind evil spirits, saving your household from harm.