Open the Door: Towards the Future

Image result for mezuzah

A true story. Sort of.

Grandpa Solomon put up the Mezuzah hanging it straight up-and-down.

“Look Jacob. See how straight I place the Mezuzah.

At Passover, we remember how in Egypt when we painted blood on the doorposts of our house God guarded us from the angel of death. The Mezuzah reminds us of that night.

Have I told you the story about a king who sent a pearl to a rabbi and and asks for a present of equal value in return? The rabbi sent him a mezuzah but the King was angry. He felt that a Mezuzah could be purchased by anyone. So, he wrote an angry letter to Rav.

The rabbi wrote back to the King: You sent a pearl. Now I require guards at my house. I sent you a Mezuzah. Surely that is more valuable? The Mezuzah guards your house!”

“This Mezuzah” said Grandpa Solomon, “guards our house!”

“Grandpa really? A box on the doorpost guarding us from harm? Do you believe that?” said Jacob.

His grandson always seemed to question everything.

“Ah little one, now in real life you disagree with me! I dream about you disagreeing with me! We have traditions little one. Ours are not to change the traditions.”

“But what if they don’t make sense? What if they don’t mean something to me? countered Jacob.

“Shush! Jacob. It is tradition!”

Jacob grew up to be a great scholar whose teachings were so beautiful that they touched people’s hearts. He was always looking for meaning and a way to love God.

One day he was putting up the Mezuzah with his daughter Fleur.

“Look Fleur, see how I place the Mezuzah on the door lying flat.”

“Why Papa? Everybody else places the Mezuzah up and down! Why do you need to be creative? Why do you lay it down?”

“Little Fleur. You ask such good questions.

When we carried the Ark in the desert we placed the Ten Commandments and the teachings flat on the bottom of the Ark.  That way they could not fall as we carried them around the wilderness.

I love putting up the Mezuzah this way. It makes sense to me. It shows how much we love God and God’s teachings. We give the Mezuzah a kiss each time to remind us how much we love Torah.”

“But Papa, everybody else hangs their Mezuzah up and down. Why do we….”

“Shush, Fleur. We must play with Judaism so it makes sense to us. It should be beautiful.”

Fleur grew up. She and her children and their children’s children loved being Jewish because Jacob had taught them creativity beauty. To honor her father, she hung the Mezuzah flat  to remind them of the love of God’s teachings.

Others in their family followed the tradition of Grandfather Solomon. Tradition! They honored the idea that God guarded their door.

Who do you think was right?

What is more important?

Tradition?

Creativity and a a love for Judaism?

The members of Solomon, Jacob and Fleur’s family followed different customs down the generations.

One hundred and fifty years later they took they went to a Rabbi from outside their family and asked: Which practice is better? Should the Mezuzah be up and down – guarding tradition? Should the Mezuzah be flat – displaying creativity and love?

The Rabbi came up with a great solution.

Both ideas were right!

He suggested that we place the Mezuzah slanted, pointing forwards into the room. Rooted in tradition but pointed to creativity and love.

That way the people could choose, Sometimes, they could see the Mezuzah as upright, honoring the tradition. Sometimes they could see the Mezuzah as lying down, reminding them to be creative to find ways to feel their love of God and God’s love for them. Sometimes they could see both as important.

The Mezuzah teaches us that we can choose.

We need both tradition and creativity that expresses our love for being Jewish to be true.

Let us say a blessing. A blessing for affixing the Mezuzot of our lives on a slant. Rooted in tradition. Searching for meaning. Searching for love.  Towards the future.

Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, asher qideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu liqboa’ mezuzah.

We bless You, Adonai our God, Channeler of Universes, who gives us awareness of holiness through Mitzvot and directs us to affix a mezuzah.

Note for our adults in the room.

I began by telling you that this is a sorta true story. The people of this story were real people in Jewish history and rabbinic texts. RaSHI, Rabbenu Tam, Fleur de Lis Kolonymos, the Tur. The argument is a real Jewish argument.

If you want to know the emet, the truth, the multiples sources, the midrash, and more behind this tale… feel free to come and study it with me! An open invite through the door of Jewish learning!

 

 

 

 

Let’s open the door with a story.

(open the door)

A true story.

Sort of.

 

Grandpa Shlomo[1] placed the Mezuzah on the door vertically.

“Look Yaakov,[2]  see how straight I place the Mezuzah.

Grandpa put on his rabbi-yalmuke. After all Reb Shlomo bar Yitzchak was known for his teachings. Everybody read RASHI. “The Mezuzah, little Yaakov, represents the blood of the lamb smeared by our ancestors on that night when they stood between the doorway of slavery and the doorway of freedom. God guarded us from the Angel of Death as we went forth from Egypt.

The Mezuzah continues to guard all of us who put it on the doorpost. It stands upright. It reminds us that the God up in heaven, protects us here down on earth.

Once king of Parthia once sent a pearl to Rav and asks for something of equal value in return. Rav sent him a mezuzah but the King was not pleased with this strange gift. He felt that a Mezuzah could be purchased by anyone. It could not be of equal value.So he wrote an angry letter to Rav.

Rav writes back to the King that the pearl he sent requires him to set up protection at his house at great expense. But the Mezuzah he gifted the King, is actually a more valuable treasure, as it will offer protection to the King when he is at home.”[3]

Shlomo felt especially proud that he could tell a midrashic story his grandson Yaakov would understand and remember…. “The mezuzah, my Yaakov, guards us from harm.”

“Grandpa really? A box on the doorpost guarding us from harm? Do you believe that?” said little Yaakov.

His grandson always seemed to question everything.

“Ah little one, now in real life you disagree with me! In my dreams, I held you as a baby and you touched the Tefillin on my head and I saw that in the future you would disagree with me about the order in which we place passages in the boxes on the Tefillin.[4] We have traditions little one. Ours are not to change the traditions.”

“But what if they don’t make sense? What if they don’t mean something to me or to my generation? Shouldn’t we make them meaningful?” countered Yaakov. “Are we to be guards, standing firm in a tradition that does not mean anything, resistant to change?”

“Shush! Yaakov. It is tradition!”[5]

Yaakov grew up to become a great scholar like his grandfather Shlomo. Like his mother Yocheved, his father Meir[6] and his brother Shmuel[7]. He was called Rabbeinu Tam by those who knew him. Rabbeinu Tam meaning “our straightforward teacher” because his teachings touched the heart of those in his generation. His reputation spread far and wide.

Once, Rabbeinu Tam, also known as Papa Yaakov, was standing outside the door of his house with his daughter Fleur de lis.[8]

“Look Fleur, see how I place the Mezuzah on the door horizontally.”

“Why Papa? Everybody else places the Mezuzah vertically! Why do you do we do it differently?”

“Little Fleur. You ask such good questions. Fleur de lis, in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, we showed our love of God, by laying God’s teachings flat in the Ark, the Torah scrolls and the Ten Commandments. Flat to keep them safe, so they were less likely to fall or be harmed. When we affix the Mezuzah horizontally on our doors, we remind ourselves of our love of God’s teachings in the Temple, how much we cared for them, and the preciousness of God’s teachings in our lives. As you enter the door, give it a kiss each time to show your love of God and God’s teaching.”[9]

“Why Papa, why do you always need to be Jewish differently?”

“Not differently, little Fleur, we need to make being Jewish meaningful. The horizontal Mezuzah teaches us about God’s love for us and our love for God. Isn’t that a beautiful thought?”

“Yes Papa, it is beautiful like your poems that everyone recites, but what about tradition? Everybody else says that we are changing Judaism!”

“Shush, little Fleur. It is important for Judaism to make sense and mean something.”

Fleur grew up. She and her children and their children’s children loved being Jewish. And they always looked for meaning in their practice. They affixed the Mezuzah horizontal for love, as Fleur’s Papa had taught.

Others in their family felt that the rules of tradition came first. Like their father and grandfather and great grandfather RaSHI, they affixed the Mezuzah vertically to remind that God is the guardian of our door. They’d always done it that way. Without rules, without boundaries, Judaism would not be the same.

Who do you think was right? Is the tradition more important than touching the heart? Is touching the heart more important than the tradition?

  • What is more important? (Some examples… if you need to draw them out)
  • Keeping the rules of Shabbat or finding things that feel Shabbastik to you?
  • Eating Kosher or being aware that eating is holy?
  • “MiSinai melodies” that remind us of Jewish history or contemporary tunes that you identify with?
  • Reading Hebrew or praying in a language that you understand?
  • Reading the Haggadah or making the story your own?

 

A hundred and fifty years later, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher also known as The Tur, asked the same question. Some people were hanging their Mezuzot vertically. Some people were hanging their Mezuzot horizontally. Is the tradition more important than touching the heart? Is touching the heart more important than tradition?

Which will open the door to our Jewish continuity?

He could not decide… the tradition gave Judaism roots and authenticity. The creativity and touching the heart allowed Judaism to speak emotionally.

So the Tur split the difference. He wrote in his book that we should place the Mezuzah on our doorpost slanted, pointing forwards into the room.[10]

Our Jewish continuity always stands at that place. The Mezuzah hangs on our doorway between tradition and meaning. We incorporate tradition for roots and authenticity. We search for heart-soul connection for Judaism to have a  meaningful future.

Let us say a blessing. A blessing for affixing the Mezuzot of our lives on a slant. Rooted in tradition. Searching for meaning. Towards the future.

Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, asher qideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu liqboa’ mezuzah.

We bless You, Adonai our God, Channeler of Universes, who gives us awareness of holiness through Mitzvot and directs us to affix a mezuzah.

[1] The first name of Reb Shlomo bar Yitzchak (RaSHI) who ruled that the Mezuzah should be applied to the doorpost vertically.

[2] The first name of Rashi’s grandson, Rabbenu Tam, son of Rashi’s daughter Yocheved.

[3] Sefer Haagadah (check reference

[4] Traditional legend

[5] This tradition is according to the opinion of Rashi, Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch. It is still the custom among Sephardic Jews to hang the Mezuzah vertically.

[6] Meir ben Shmuel

[7] Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam), 15 years his senior.  His other borthes were Isaac (Rivam) and Solomon the Grammarian)

[8] The children of Rabbenu Tam were: Yitzhak TzarfatiShlomo TzarfatiMoshe TzarfatiFleur de lis Klonymos, of Falaise and Yosef Kalonymus-Tzarfati. You know I picked the daughter because of her gender! We need to write women back into history.

[9] The origins of the custom of kissing the Mezuzah are obscure. It may have been introduced much later by the Arizal. It is custom recommended by some rabbis and vilified by others. I have taken the liberty here of attributing it to Rabbeinu Tam.

[10] Arbaah Turim, Yoreh Deah, 289

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