By Laura Seymour
Hanukkah is over until next year; however, this year we are all thinking about how we should publicize that we are Jewish beyond the hanukkiah in the window. This week my lesson at the J was about the Shema and the mezuzah. The Shema is one of the first prayers we teach our children because it is said first in the morning and then right before bed. It is a wonderful part of many bedtime rituals that families have. The Shema is not a prayer to G-d but is a statement about G-d, about us and about the connections binding us with G-d and with each other. It says that there is one G-d for all of us.
The custom is to cover your eyes when saying the Shema so that you can really think about what you are saying.
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
Hear O Israel, Adonai is Our G-d, Adonai is One.
You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be in your heart. You shall teach them faithfully to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your home, when you go on your way, when you lie down and when you rise up. And, as a reminder of My commandments, you shall bind these words on your arm and place them between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
The Shema is inside of the mezuzah, which we also talked about this week. We also talked about the Shema inside the mezuzah and our children created their own mezuzah. (We did not include the parchment — just an English translation and advice to purchase your own kosher scroll.) Here are some of the details to remember:
A rabbi does not need to put up your mezuzah. Here is the prayer: Baruch atah Adonai elohaynu melech ha’olam asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu likboah mezuzah. Blessed are You, Adonai our G-d, King of the Universe, who has made us holy with mitzvot and instructed us to affix the mezuzah.
Face the door from the outside. Touch the right doorpost — that is where to place the mezuzah about ⅔ of the way up with the top of the mezuzah tilted in.
A mezuzah may be placed on every doorpost in the house except for the bathrooms and the closets.
The parchment includes the Shema and Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-31.
Become a mezuzah kisser — first touch your hand to the mezuzah, then bring your hand to your lips and kiss it.
Mezuzah literally means “doorpost” but is normally taken to refer to the case which holds the parchment. On the outside of every mezuzah is a single Hebrew word — one of G-d’s names: Shaddai. The rabbis turn this into an anagram: Shomer Delatot Yisrael, Guardian of Israel’s Doors. When we put up a mezuzah and reconnect with it every time we enter, a sort of nonverbal prayer for protection is pointed in G-d’s direction.
A final story is a legend on the rabbinic “argument” on whether to hang the mezuzah vertically or horizontally. The story tells of the typical argument back and forth ending with a compromise to hang it at an angle. The important message for all times is that sometimes we need to compromise and that each time you enter your home (or school or business), the mezuzah is reminding us that we need to meet each other in peace!
So if you don’t have one — now is the time to get your mezuzah for your front door and while you are at it, get a few more for every door in your home!
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.