Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai
Volume 2: Number 11
December 19, 2005
Mitzvah 12: Affixing a Mezuzah on the Door
It is a positive commandment to affix a mezuzah at the entrance to a home.
Hafetz Hayim: Scripture states, “And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:9). In the mezuzah, on a small piece of rolled up parchment, two sections of Scripture are written, these are the first two paragraphs of the Shema. Each person has a duty to take care of a mezuzah so that every time he or she enters or leaves the house he will encounter the unity of G-d and remember the love of G-d as written on the parchment. This awareness will awaken the person from their slumber and from their errors in the vapid empty matters of the present; and he will realize that nothing endures forever and ever except the knowledge of the Divine Rock – the foundation of the world. Thus that person will return at once to good sense and walk in the straightforward path of decency. It is in force everywhere and at every time, for both men and women.
The first thing we notice is that the mezuzah is NOT an amulet. It is not a good luck charm or some other kind of instrument that protects a home or the family that lives inside. These are pagan notions and not part of the Jewish understanding of the way the world works. In keeping with standard rabbinic practice, it is a “sign” or a “reminder” of our obligations as Jews and it points to the importance of G-d in our lives.
First some technical points: The essence of the Mezuzah is the handwritten parchment inside. The outside case can be as beautiful or plain as one desires (although you gets points for “hiddur mitzvah” or “beautifying a mitzvah” when you choose a nice case) just as long as the parchment inside is “kosher”. It should bear the seal of the rabbinic authority that is certifying the scroll. It does not matter if the mezuzah is place on the inside or the outside of the actual door as long as it is installed on the doorpost, that is, the upright part of the door that supports the lintel. It should be on the right hand side as one enters the room and it should be attached on the upper 1/3 of the doorpost. There is a blessing that is recited when a mezuzah is attached but if one is attaching many mezuzot at one time, one blessing is enough for the entire operation. A mezuzah should be affixed to every door that has doorposts over 3 feet high in the house with the exception of closet doors and the bathroom door.
The Rabbis argued over whether it should be attached vertically or horizontally, so the compromise is that we attach it at a 45-degree angle with the top pointing into the room.
This may sound like heresy but notice also that the Hafetz Hayim says that one needs to “see” the mezuzah, not touch it or kiss it. There is no mitzvah to kiss a mezuzah.
A spiritual note: Doorways are always a place of mystery. One world ends and another begins. As we make that transition, having words of Torah at our right hand is a great comfort and helps us to know that wherever we go, we are never far from our Creator.
It is not often easy to know which side is “the right side as one enters the room” especially for a hallway or a room with multiple entrances. When in doubt, a Rabbi should be consulted. Only once did I see a mezuzah on the left side of a door between the outside and inside of a building. It was on a supermarket in Israel, the door was an automatic exit door and entering from that doorway was difficult to impossible. It was “exit only” so it went on the right side as one exited the store. The entrance only door had the mezuzah in its customary place.
Next week: Mitzvah 13: Birkat HaMazon