BY RABBI BRIAN GLUSMAN / AJT //
One of our favorite family games to play while driving through a new neighborhood is “Who can find the most mezuzahs?”
It’s a simple game – the person with the largest number of sightings wins – but it is also an exciting game, as we feel a strong sense of Jewish pride when we see a mezuzah displayed publicly.
Hanging a mezuzah has, in some cases, even been inherited by non-Jews. A few years ago, an article appeared in The New York Times about an apartment building in which the residents had once been predominantly Jewish but had long since changed to a variety of tenants of all backgrounds.
Now, the people behind those doors are Catholic, Baptists, Episcopalians, Buddhists, and atheists, but notably, many have chosen to leave the mezuzahs in place. When one resident was asked why he chose to leave the mezuzah, he simply responded, “It’s good karma.”
There are three primary reasons why we have mezuzahs on our doorposts. The first is because it is a commandment in the Torah; the mezuzah is there to remind us that our home embraces Jewish values and principles. All who enter our house are made aware of our ideals and traditions.
The second reason is historical, as the mezuzah echoes the lessons of our Exodus from Egypt. In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Bo, the Hebrews were commanded to sacrifice a lamb and place the blood on the doorposts of their homes. In doing so, the Hebrews had to publicly declare their faith and their loyalty to G-d.
This reminds us that to be a Jew, one must have the courage and conviction to take a stand for what we believe. We must be willing to identify as Jews, even in places where that may be difficult or even dangerous.
The third reason comes from a more modern interpretation of why we place a mezuzah on our doorposts, taught by Rabbi Irwin Kula, President of The Center for Learning and Leadership. It is a reason that speaks to all people, whether Jewish or not.
Considering that when we knock on someone’s door, we usually are met with the question, “Who is there?”, the rabbi said the mezuzah reminds us to ask ourselves that same question as we enter our own homes. In other words, it prompts one to ask the question, “Who am I?”
Am I the employee, who is returning from a day at the office? Am I the CEO of a company? Am I the person coming home to pay bills and deal with the daily challenges that weigh me down? Or am I the loving spouse, parent, sibling, child or friend who is returning to a loving family?
This is a challenging question. Rabbi Kula reflects on a period of time when he would enter the house, look through the mail, check phone messages, and finally say hello to his family – until finally his wife and children sat him down and explained that he was doing these tasks in the wrong order.
It is tempting for all of us to define ourselves as a worker, as a bill-payer, or as a person who needs to respond to our many Facebook friends instead of defining ourselves as a loving family member and caring friend. But fortunately, the mezuzah reminds us to assess who we are every time we enter our house or a loved one’s home.
It is a vital question that should force us to remember what is important when we come home every day. Otherwise, if we don’t, the stressors of the day may stay with us mentally, though we may have left the office physically. In that case, we may be a spouse, friend and a parent in name, but emotionally we are not present.
In addition to all this, keep in mind that the mezuzah is a physical part of the structure that we have connected to our lives and our home. We need to be reminded of its permanency. It is not enough to simply look at it and kiss it, but to reflect on its meaning, and this mitzvah signifies an important lesson in our lives.
And so, in 2013, let us honestly answer the question the mezuzah presents: Who am I? Who is the person entering this house? How do I define myself?
Am I defined by my job? Am I a loving spouse, parent and friend? Am I present for my family? Do I put my family first?
May this be the year we are present and mentally there for those we love and cherish. When we walk into our homes, may we welcome and be welcomed. May we embrace and be embraced. May we reflect on the question and answer with, “I am here, I am home.”
Rabbi Brian Glusman is director of membership, outreach and engagement at the MJCCA and a member of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association.