About the mitzvah of mezuzah, which is found in this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, the Talmud relates that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi once sent a mezuzah as a gift to Artaban, king of Persia, explaining that the small scroll would protect him from harm.
At first glance, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi’s gesture seems odd. The commandment to affix a mezuzah upon one’s doorposts was given only to the Jewish nation. A non-Jewish king, therefore, would not be fulfilling a religious precept by possessing a mezuzah. As such, he would also be ineligible for any reward resulting from the performance of a mitzvah. Why then did Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi promise the gentile king that the mezuzah would guard and protect him?
A similar question may also be asked about the common practice, dating back to the time of the Mishnah, of inserting a mezuzah scroll into one’s walking stick, also done for the sake of the protection it afforded. A walking stick is certainly not included in the commandment of mezuzah. If there is no commandment, there is certainly no reward. How, then, did the mezuzah afford protection?
A distinction must be made between the reward a person receives for performing a mitzvah and the intrinsic attribute of the mitzvah itself. When a person obeys G-d’s command by fulfilling a mitzvah, the reward he earns is a separate and distinct entity, additional to the essential nature of the mitzvah. For example, the Torah states that the reward for the mitzvah of mezuzah is long life: “That your days be increased and the days of your children.”
Yet besides the reward promised by the Torah, each mitzvah has its own special attributes and characteristics that have nothing to do with reward, but are integral parts of the mitzvah itself. The mezuzah’s attribute is protection. Our Sages explained that when a kosher mezuzah is affixed to the door post, G-d Himself watches over the occupants of the house, even when they are not at home. A mezuzah is written solely for the purpose of protection, and, by its nature, it protects.
With this in mind, it becomes clear that even when no fulfilment of a religious precept is involved, a mezuzah still possesses this attribute of protection, at least to some degree. It was for this reason that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi sent the mezuzah as a gift to the Persian king and that Jews took mezuzot with them wherever they went inside their walking sticks.
In a similar vein, speaking about and studying the laws of mezuzah afford similar protection. The Talmud relates that in the house of one Jewish king a special sign was made on those door posts that were exempt from having a mezuzah.
From this we learn the crucial importance of having kosher mezuzot. The Jewish people, likened to “one sheep among seventy wolves,” are always in need of special defence. Every additional mezuzah affixed to a Jewish home extends G-d’s Divine protection to the entire Jewish nation, for all Jews are ultimately responsible for one another.
Aside from this, In Hebrew, the word for human dwelling is dirah, while the word for animal dwelling is dir. The difference between these two words is the letter hey — signifying the Name of God. The presence of God in one’s home is what distinguishes us as uniquely human.
If we want our internal world to reflect Godly ideals, we have to protect it against the outside world at the point of interface: the doorway. “When a Jew enters his house, he sees the mezuzah and is thereby reminded how he should act in his home. Likewise, when a Jew leaves the house, the mezuzah reminds him of the high level of behaviour he is expected to maintain wherever he goes.”
The Mezuzah comprises two Parshiyot. The first begins with “Shma Yisrael” and is found in V’Etchanan and the second is “V’Haya Im Shamoa Tishmeu” which is in Parshas Eykev. (Both in Sefer Devorim)
In the Mishna in Maseches Brachos, we find a definition for each section; the first is declaring our loyalty to the G-d of Israel and the second is acceptance of Mitzvos.
Each time we enter or exit a home, the Mezuzah reminds us of the holiness of these Mitzvot and the love with which we perform them. So it is only natural to express our love by kissing the Mezuzah.
When we kiss the Mezuzah on entering the house, we are taking Hashem into our home, we are realising that Hashem’s presence in our homes will make it a peaceful and holy home. When we kiss it on leaving the home we are taking Hashem out into the open world so that we can be B’ezras Hashem a Kiddush Hashem and act accordingly.
Wherever we go after kissing the mezuzah or if we take one in our walking stick we know Hashem is not only physically protecting us from the world outside, but spiritually so that we can block out the gashmius that the outside world carries with it! Also in our own home after kissing the mezuzah we are protected both physically and spiritually. Physically because Hashem is guarding us from physical attack and therefore prolongs our lives as the posuk states “That your days be increased and the days of your children.” and spiritually, because we want our home to be a place where our children can be bought up in a spiritual, Holy environment.