What is a Mezuzah?
The word mezuzah means doorpost but it actually refers to a specially prepared sheet of parchment on which a trained scribe (sofer or soferet for a female) writes the verses of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 – “Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One. You shall love the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart… And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.”. It is an ancient Jewish tradition to put these sacred words on our doorposts as a reminder that the home is a sanctuary – a sacred place. Essentially, what is written on the scroll is the core teaching in Judaism paired down to one paragraph called the S’hma and V’ahavta.
The first of the Jewish values, hand-written in Hebrew on the parchment scroll, is a call to listen and understand that we are all one. The writings then instruct us to love kindness, to treat all things with truth and compassion, to care for the earth and everything that dwells upon it, and to teach these values to our children and our children’s children. We are also instructed to affix these words onto our doorposts so that we can embody this way of life as we come and as we go.
According to the teaching, if we uphold these values, peace and justice will prevail and there will be protection for the soul. Some believe a kosher scroll 7 cm or larger will bring actual protection to the physical body. It is my wish to share the meaning of the mezuzah to “spread the love” with people regardless of religious affiliation and open the door to Judaism one mezuzah at a time. Please note, if you decide to have a mezuzah but you are not Jewish, you do not need to denounce your given religion to do so. The power of the mezuzah will be there regardless.
How to Hang a Mezuzah
Attach the mezuzah case to the right-hand side of the doorpost. Hang it about 8″ from the top of the frame, at a 45 degree angle, with the top facing toward the inside of the house or room. Mezuzahs may be hung on inside and outside doors. Do not hang the mezuzah on bathrooms or closets.
Before attaching the mezuzah to the doorpost, say this blessing:
Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu, likboa mezuzah.
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.
How to hang the mezuzah:
Affixing the mezuzah:
Images from “Like a Reed, The Message of the Mezuzah” by Yehuda Cahn, illustrated by Avaraham Cohen
Mezuzah Translation and Teaching
The direct translation of the word mezuzah is “doorpost.” A mezuzah is the parchment on which the prayers Sh’ma and V’ahafta are written. I create the case which holds the parchment so that it may be attached to the front doorpost and every room of the home.
Sh’ma & V’ahafta translation
The first prayer (Sh’ma) translated in English means: Hear, O Israel: the Eternal One is our God, the Eternal God is one! Deuteronomy 6:4
The second prayer (V’ahavta) modern translation by Marcia Falk
Loving life and its mysterious source with all our heart and all our spirit, all our sense and strength, we take upon ourselves these promises: to care for the earth and those who live upon it, to pursue justice and peace, to love kindness and compassion. We will teach this to our children throughout the passage of the day as we dwell in our homes and as we go on our journeys, from the time we rise until the time we fall asleep. And may our actions be faithful to our words that our children’s children may live to know: Truth and kindness have embraced, peace and justice have kissed and are one. Deuteronomy 11:13
-From “Like a Reed, The Message of the Mezuzah” (pp. 6) by Yehuda Cahn
Listen Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them to you children and speak about them when you sit at home, walk about, lie down, or get up. You whall tie them as a symbol on your arm and as a headpiece between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorways of your house and on your gates.
If you obey the percepts which I command you today to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul, then I will give rain to your land in its season, the fall and spring rains, and you will collect your grain, wine, and oil. I will give grass in your field for your cattle. You will eat and be satisfied. Guard yourselves, or your hearts will persuade you to turn from me and worship false things and bow to them. Then God’s anger will burn against you and He will stop up the skies so that there will be no rain. The land will yield no produce and you will perish from the good land which God gave you. You shall place these words in your heart and in your soul. You whall tie them as a symbol on your arm and as a headpiece between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children and speak about them when you sit at home, walk about, lie down, or get up. You whall tie them as a symbol on your arm and as a headpiece between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorways of your house and on your gates so that your days and the days of your children may be increased upon the land which G-d swore to give to your fathers for as long as the sky remains over the earth. Deuteronomy 11:13
Why is the letter Shin on the front of the Mezuzah?
Shin is the 21st Letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. On the Mezuzah case it represents “Sha-dai,” which is one way of saying G-d in Hebrew. The literal translation of G-d’s Name Sha-dai is “Al-mighty.” This name of G-d or its abbreviation (simply the letter shin ) is found on the mezuzah case and scroll, as well as in other Jewish ritual objects and prayers, such as tefillin, and the Priestly Blessing.
What follows is an interpretation of Sha-dai on the mezuzah that is very meaningful for me. In this way, I will tell you why I think the mezuzah holds a key to increasing peace in the world. First, though, let’s look at the most common interpretation of Sha-dai. It is associated with the teaching that a kosher (correctly made and written) mezuzah scroll is endowed by G-d with the spiritual power to provide a degree of protection from harm. The presence of Sha-dai on the back of the scroll (and the letter Shin or the fully written Sha-dai on the case holding the scroll) can be interpreted as an acrostic for: “Shomer Daltot Yisrael” (“Guardian of Israel’s Doors”) or “Shomer Darchei Yisrael” (“Guardian of Israel’s Paths”). This is illustrated in the following image:
One Rabbi in Israel with whom I recently spoke made the analogy that a kosher mezuzah scroll is like a protector for its owner, similar to the concept of wearing a helmet before you go to war. You wouldn’t leave for battle without it. Jewish tradition even goes as far as to say that the mezuzah scroll helps to protect a person from ill health or accidents (which is why some people keep one in the glove compartment of their car).
Some religiously observant Torah scholars believe that the fact that not all Jewish people have mezuzahs on their doorposts is cause for much of the trouble in the world because the protection of the world is only partial. Evidence of this they say, is the fact that the world is still beset with greed, violence, war, jealousy, hatred and the like. However I feel more people of the world (not just Jews)– should be invited to incorporate the mezuzah into their lives– to the benefit of all. This is why I would like to put forth this spiritual interpretation of Sha-dai that can inspire awareness in more people, even to the extent that many of the world’s problems might vanish.
If you look at the word Sha-dai in Hebrew, it has the same spelling as the word “shaudai”, which means “my breasts” (the plural of “shaud” = “breast”). The breasts are located in the Heart-Space of a human being, and for mothers, they are the source that provides sustenance for new life.
The spelling of SHA-DAI (“Al-mighty” or literally, “He Who has [unlimited] sufficiency”) can also be translated as “My breasts”. . . “The sustenance and nurturing that I [G-d] provide.”
I believe that the purpose of Sha-dai on the mezuzah scroll is to remind us as we come and as we go from our homes we should live with lovingkindness in our hearts—to operate the home from a place centering in the heart. It represents the nurturing aspect of G-d, and through living in this way, the consciousness of a person will be protected.
ROOT WORD OF SHADDAI: ‘SHAD’ = BREAST
SHADDAI = HEART
THE MEANING: ‘THE NURTURER’
It is this message of the mezuzah that is imperative for us to gift to humanity. Whether a person has a kosher mezuzah scroll – or an object inspired by the ideas of the mezuzah – I believe its teachings are a light in the world. They will have a positive effect on humanity.