And you shall write [the words that I command you today] on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. -Deuteronomy 6:9, 11:19
On the doorposts of traditional Jewish homes (and many not-so-traditional homes!), you will find a small case like the one pictured at left. This case is commonly known as a mezuzah (Heb.: doorpost), because it is placed upon the doorposts of the house. The mezuzah is not, as some suppose, a good-luck charm, nor does it have any connection with the lamb's blood placed on the doorposts in Egypt. Rather, it is a constant reminder of G-d's presence and G-d's mitzvot.
The mitzvah to place mezuzot on the doorposts of our houses is derived from Deut. 6:4-9, a passage commonly known as the Shema (Heb: Hear, from the first word of the passage). In that passage, G-d commands us to keep His words constantly in our minds and in our hearts by (among other things) writing them on the doorposts of our house. The words of the Shema are written on a tiny scroll of parchment, along with the words of a companion passage, Deut. 11:13-21. On the back of the scroll, a name of G-d is written. The scroll is then rolled up and placed in the case, so that the first letter of the Name (the letter Shin) is visible (or, more commonly, the letter Shin is written on the outside of the case).
The scroll must be handwritten in a special style of writing and must be placed in the case to fulfill the mitzvah. It is commonplace for gift shops to sell cases without scrolls, or with mechanically printed scrolls, because a proper scroll costs more than even an elaborately decorated case ($30-$50 for a valid scroll is quite reasonable). According to traditional authorities, mechanically printed scrolls do not fulfill the mitzvah of the mezuzah, nor does an empty case.
The case and scroll are then nailed or affixed at an angle to the right side doorpost as you enter the building or room, with a small ceremony called Chanukkat Ha-Bayit (dedication of the house - yes, this is the same word as Chanukkah, the holiday celebrating the rededication of the Temple). A brief blessing is recited. See the text of the blessing at Affixing the Mezuzah.
Why is the mezuzah affixed at an angle? The rabbis could not decide whether it should be placed horizontally or vertically, so they compromised!
Every time you pass through a door with a mezuzah on it, you touch the mezuzah and then kiss the fingers that touched it, expressing love and respect for G-d and his mitzvot and reminding yourself of the mitzvot contained within them.
It is proper to remove a mezuzah when you move, and in fact, it is usually recommended. If you leave it in place, the subsequent owner may treat it with disrespect, and this is a grave sin. I have seen many mezuzot in apartment complexes that have been painted over because a subsequent owner failed to remove it while the building was painted, and it breaks my heart every time I see that sort of disrespect to an object of religious significance.
Bind [the words that I command you today] as a sign on your arm, and they shall be ornaments between your eyes. -Deuteronomy 6:8
The Shema also commands us to bind the words to our hands and between our eyes. We do this by "laying tefillin," that is, by binding to our arms and foreheads leather pouches containing scrolls of Torah passages.
The word "tefillin" is usually translated "phylacteries," although I don't much care for that term. "Phylacteries" isn't very enlightening if you don't already know what tefillin are, and the word "phylacteries" means "amulet," suggesting that tefillin are some kind of protective charm, which they are not. The word "tefillin," on the other hand, is etymologically related to the word "tefilah" (prayer) and the root Pe-Lamed-Lamed (judgment).
Like the mezuzah, tefillin are meant to remind us of G-d's mitzvot. We bind them to our head and our arm, committing both our intellect and our physical strength to the fulfillment of the mitzvot. At weekday morning services, one case is tied to the arm, with the scrolls at the biceps and leather straps extending down the arm to the hand, then another case is tied to the head, with the case on the forehead and the straps hanging down over the shoulders. Appropriate blessings are recited during this process. The tefillin are removed at the conclusion of the morning services. See a general outline of this process and its blessings at Tallit and Tefillin.
Jewish acupuncturist Steven Schram examined the positioning of the tefillin and the procedure for laying them, and concluded that the laying of tefillin was "a unique way of stimulating a very precise set of acupuncture points that appears designed to clear the mind and harmonise the spirit." Click here to see his article from the Journal of Chinese Medicine.
Like the scrolls in a mezuzah, the scrolls in tefillin must be hand-written in a special style of writing. A good, valid set of tefillin can cost a few hundred dollars, but if properly cared for they can last for a lifetime.
As we conclude the study of Moses, the exodus, and
wanderings of the children of Israel it is interesting to note the impact these
accounts have had on history, in particular American history. I read a book titled America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story by
Bruce Feiler. It is an interesting look at how the the story of Moses and the
children of Israel have been used in influencing and describing great events in
U.S. history such as the settlement of America, the American revolution, the
Underground Railroad, and the Civil War. The Moses story has always had an
influence on LDS history, but it is fascinating to see how this ancient prophet
has also impacted the broader history of the American nation.
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Changes last made on: 27 March 2014