By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
The recent tragedies within the Jewish community in Eretz Yisroel, in France and in Belgium, have sparked numerous reactions. The highly esteemed lawyer Ben Brafman penned an essay in the Five Towns Jewish Times about Jews and firearms. Others have called for introspection and checking our Mezuzos.
But should the Mezuzah be part of this discussion? Are we not talking about how to confront a new wave of anti-Semitism? In this essay, we will explore the reasons for the Mitzvah of Mezuzah. It is suggested that the Mezuzah indeed plays an important role in how we handle tragedy. However, the role is not on account of any superstitious, but rather on account of the symbolism that the Mezuzah represents.
The Torah tells us (Dvarim 6:9), “And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your homes and gates.” These words teach us that there is a positive Mitzvah in the Torah to write the chapters of “Shmah” (in Parshas VoEschanan, Dvarim 6:4-9) and “VeHaya Im Shamoah” (in Parshas Aikev Dvarim 11:13-21) and to place them upon the right doorpost of each of our doorways (See Shulchan Aruch 285:1).
Okay, but what are the reasons for this Mitzvah?
WHY THE TERM “TAAMEI HAMITZVOS”
“Taamei HaMitzvos” is the Hebrew term for the “Reasons for the Commandments.” Taam has a dual meaning in Hebrew; it means both “reason” and “taste.” Rabbi Mordechai Gifter zatzal provided the following explanation as to why the “Reasons for the Commandments” are called “Taamei HaMitzvos”:
Man requires food in order to receive nourishment. The fact that food has an additional taste is not essential to the purpose of food; rather it is an extra benefit. The same is true with Mitzvos. We are obligated in performing them because this is what Hashem wants of us. Indeed, Rashi tells us (VaYikra 1:9) that fulfilling the Mitzvos serves to give our Father in Heaven great pleasure – Nachas.The fact that the Mitzvos have additional reasons that appeal to our intellect is an “extra benefit.”
Although the main reason that we perform Hashem’s commandments is simply because this is what Hashem desires of us, there are other general reasons that are provided by the sages.
We must also keep in mind that the highest level of Mitzvah observance is to do so with no regard to the reward that one receives (Pirkei Avos 1:3).
KNOWING THE REASONS FOR MITZVOS
Our sages explain that it is imperative for a person to both know and understand the reasons for the Mitzvos to the best of his or her abilities. The Rambam writes this in both Moreh Nevuchim (3:31) and in his Yad HaChazakah (Hilchos Meilah 8:8). The idea is also found in the Zohar (Parshas Yisro p. 93b).
Other Rishonim also discuss the importance of knowing and understanding the reasons for the Mitzvos to the best of our ability. Rabbeinu Yonah does so in his Shaarei HaAvodah §54. Rabbi Avrohom Ibn Ezra writes so in his Yesod HaMoreh Shaar 8.
One should also understand the general kabbalistic concepts involved in the performance of Mitzvos, as well. Briefly, when Hashem created the world it was necessary for Hashem to cause a tzimtzum – a figurative constriction of Himself “from Himself to Himself.” The process perforce involved a moment of cosmic dislocation – or brokenness. Divine sparks, nitzotzos, were flung throughout. The world is thus in need of tikkun, repair. When a Mitzvah is performed, the Divine sparks are returned and a tikkun (repair) is made. The performance of the Mitzvah accelerates the ultimate redemptive process.
All this is particularly true regarding the Mitzvah of Mezuzah. So let’s begin:
The Ramban (Sefer Shmos end of Parshas Bo) writes that with the proper observance of the Mitzvah of Mezuzah a person acknowledges five very important things. They are:
• Hashem’s creation of the world
• His Omniscient knowledge
• His Divine Providence
• A belief in prophecy and the other fundamental principles of the Torah
• The belief that the mercy of Hashem is very great to those that do His Will, since He brought us out of Mitzrayim through the merit of our forefathers who delighted in fear of Hashem’s Name.
The reference in his fifth reason is to the fact that the blood of the sheep was placed upon the doorposts of our homes before we left Mitzrayim.
The Ramban’s reasons, of course, were not new per se. We find reason number three, in fact, in Josephus too, who was merely reiterating what Jews has long believed. Josephus writes (Antiquities IV 8:13) that the Mezuzah is placed upon the doorpost…”in order that His Benevolent Providence may be known everywhere.”
The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 423) writes that the reason for the Mitzvah of Mezuzah is so that we should have a constant reminder about having faith in the Creator, whenever we enter or exit our homes and rooms.
The Raavad in his HaEmunah HaRamah (Maamer §3, “Bezeh HaPerek”) explains that the Mezuzah is one of the Divine aids that Hashem gave us in focusing our ability to constantly remember Hashem and fear Him.
The Avudraham explains that there are Mezuzos that are placed in a home, and there are Mezuzos for a city and country. The Mezuzos in our homes remind us of Hashem’s tremendous gift to us – the land of Israel.
The Aruch HaShulchan (YD 285:2) writes that the Mezuzah contains the unification of Hashem’s Holy Name which, when we contemplate it, maintains our fear of Heaven and keeps us from sinning.
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explains that in fulfilling this Mitzvah we hallow our homes as an abode where Hashem is ever-present and where the service of Hashem is fulfilled. By doing so, we testify that all our life, all that we endure, is accomplished through Hashem. We attest that all that happens to us in life is through Hashem (Horeb §287).
All of these reasons point to the fact that this ever-present reminder within our lives of Hashem and His Oneness keeps us from losing sight of the larger picture of Hashem’s plan for the universe. It allows us to attain the highest levels of self-fulfillment. Often we get caught up in the trappings of life, and we do not reflect upon the important spiritual goals that we must strive to achieve. The Mezuzah is there to gently remind us of the reality of the Divine, that it is He that animates and ennobles all that is, and of the mission of Israel.
Indeed, Rabbeinu Bachya (Dvarim 6:9) writes that the word “Mezuzah” is equal to the Gematriah of A-D-N-Y. This indicates that through the Mezuzah one remembers that Hashem is the Master and we are His servants.
During these tragic times, the message of the Mezuzah is not only necessary, it is of paramount importance. For the Mezuzah allows us to see what others do not. Where others perceive a world of natural forces, of randomness and meaninglessness, we perceive Hashem’s creation of the universe and His craftsmanship in it. Where others perceive a cold dark world devoid of meaning, we perceive His Divine Providence and Omniscient knowledge. Where others are drawn to the cults of atheism and agnosticism we are drawn to a belief in the timeless truths of the Torah -all this through the message of the small parchment affixed to our doorposts.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.