Monday, March 31, 2008

Mezuzah brochure


4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.[a] 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

On the doorposts of every Observant-Jewish home, you will find a little rectangular case. Inside that case is a Mezuzah. It's there because the Torah commands us to affix a Mezuzah on each doorpost in our homes.

What is a Mezuzah? In brief, a Mezuzah is two chapters from the Torah written (in Hebrew, of course) on a piece of parchment. The parchment is then rolled into a scroll, wrapped in paper or plastic, usually inserted into a hard-plastic or metal case, and affixed to the doorpost. First let us discuss the meaning of this Mitzvah.

The essence of the mitzvah of Mezuzah is the concept of the Oneness of G-d. The very first verse written on the Mezuzah is the Shema: "Hear oh Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One." When we pass a doorpost, we touch the Mezuzah and remember that
G-d is One: a Oneness that is perfect and unique, a Oneness that is not one of many, nor one of a species. G-d is One without parts, partners, copies, or any divisions whatsoever.

Moreover, Hashem is our G-d, Whom we must love and obey, and Who protects us.

Every moment that the Mezuzah is on your doorpost is another merit in your favor, even though you are not actively doing anything!

How a Mezuzah is Made
There is a common tendency to call the box the "Mezuzah," and the scroll the "parchment." The Mezuzah is actually the parchment scroll with the writing on it. The box is just a box. It's primary purpose is to protect the Mezuzah that is inside it.

A Mezuzah must be handwritten. If it is printed, copied, photographed, or produced by any means other than writing, then it is invalid and may not be used.

A Mezuzah must contain in Hebrew, in a special alphabet, the following two chapters: Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21. Anything else, or anything more or less is completely unacceptable. There is only one way to write a Mezuzah. There are no alternatives.

(Please note that all the Names of Hashem in our handout this week have been intentionally created incomplete, to prevent any accidental desecration. However, it is still Torah, and should not be treated lightly.)

There is also writing on the outside of the Mezuzah, including other Names of Hashem, one of which becomes at least partly visible when the Mezuzah is rolled.

The Mezuzah must be written on special, handmade parchment. If it is written on any other type of surface, it is invalid. The parchment must come from a kosher animal, such as a cow, or a goat, and must be prepared by means of specific processes.

The ink used in the writing must also be made according to specific Laws. Among other things, it must be black. The quill used for the writing is also made a certain way (but that's mostly for practical reasons, not for legal reasons). And the writing of the Mezuzah itself must be performed according to many very exacting Laws.

The person who writes the Mezuzah is called a sofer (scribe). Since Mezuzah is a Commandment of the Torah, we must put the maximum holiness into it. This can be done only when a holy person writes the Mezuzah. A sofer must be fully trained in all the many Laws of writing mezuzos, tefillin, and Torah Scrolls. He must also love and fear Hashem, and be very punctilious in performing the Commandments properly and with holiness.

In the case of Mezuzah and tefillin, there is also an added concern that demands that the sofer be concerned about performing the Commandments properly. When a Mezuzah is created, the sofer must write the words in order. If even one letter is written out of order, the entire Mezuzah is invalid. If he writes an entire Mezuzah, and then discovers that one letter was written completely incorrectly, he cannot fix it out of order.

If he fixes the letter, he then has to erase and rewrite the entire Mezuzah from that point forward. The problem with this is that often this means that he would have to erase Hashem's Name, and that is forbidden.

So, if he makes a mistake with, say the third letter in the Mezuzah, and he discovers it only later, or if the third letter got ruined later somehow (like ink or water fell on it), this is a problem. He has to rewrite the letter, but that means that he has to erase and rewrite every letter -- in order -- from the third letter until the end. However, the third word of every Mezuzah is Hashem's Name, and none of the letters in Hashem's Name may be erased. (It is forbidden to erase even one letter of Hashem's Name.) This means that the entire Mezuzah is invalid, because one letter is invalid, and the Mezuzah must now be put away, according to the Laws of invalid holy items. (The Law of writing entirely in order is true for Tefillin as well, but not for Torah Scrolls.)

But there is an even worse scenario. The Law states that if a man does not believe in Hashem, or even if he does not believe in just one word of the Torah, and he writes a Mezuzah, or Tefillin, or Torah Scroll, even if he keeps all the Laws properly, his writing is invalid, and what he has written must be buried. If he denies even one word of the Torah, his works are not holy, and they may not be used at all, but must be buried.

Jewish Law states that a Mezuzah must be checked about once in every three or four years.