[Index of all Weekly Divrei Torah pages]

It’s not unusual for a commandment in the Torah to be associated with what seems to be a bribe, or reward, in order to encourage the person to fulfill the mitzvah. For, example, you’re allowed to give a young child sweets and cakes in order to get them to go to school and learn Torah. An older person is allowed to give tzedoka, or charity, on condition that someone gets well, or that he make a good living, or the like. And regarding the mitzvah of mezuzah (in our parsha, Deut. 11:20), the Torah says, “in order to lengthen your days and your children’s daysŔ In other words, if you follow the mitzvah of mezuzah, you will have a long life.

All of this is fine, but at first glance is not the best way to fulfill the mitzvah. True, there’s a principle that it’s better to fulfill the mitzvah without the purest motivation than not to fulfill it at all. It is hoped that by fulfilling the mitzvah for selfish reasons, sooner or later one comes to fulfill the mitzvah with the best and highest motivation. In this context, it’s interesting that the Torah says that the mezuzah offers “long life” and protection. And the sages go even further and say that it offers protection. Still, at first glance, that’s not the best reason for fulfilling the mitzvah. The best reason should be just that G-d said to put a mezuzah on the doorposts of our homes, and therefore it should be fulfilled like any other mitzvah.

However, it seems that in this case, the Torah is not offering enticement to do the mitzvah of mezuzah. It is just stating facts: The mezuzah protects. It has nothing to do with encouraging anyone to do the mitzvah, it’s just that the words of the Torah from the “Shema” in our parsha (Deut. 11:20), written properly on parchment, have the ability to fend off negative and menacing forces. A little light pushes away a lot of darkness. That’s why the Tur (a fourteenth century halachist), for example, writes about the mezuzah, “[Just as] a physical king is inside and his servants guard him from outside, so you sleep in your bed and G-d guards you from outside.” And the earlier twelfth century Tosfot said about the mezuzah that “it’s made for guarding.” That is, there’s something in the nature of the mezuzah itself that lends protection. It’s not a reward or a side-effect, it’s the mezuzah itself.

That explains a couple of interesting narratives in the Talmud. There’s a Mishneh (teaching from the oral Torah, Calim 17:16) that says that a stick that has a receptacle carved into it for a mezuzah is susceptible to spiritual impurity. Now, why would anyone have a stick with a receptacle for a mezuzah carved into it? Such a stick wouldn’t fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah, which must go upon a doorpost. And yet, the fact that the oral Torah mentions it and doesn’t say anything negative about it indicates that there is a place for such a thing.

And there’s another story (Jerusalem Talmud, Peah 1:1), this one from none other than Rebi, the redactor of the Mishneh, who sent a mezuzah to a non-Jewish king. A non-Jew is not obligated in the mitzvah of mezuzah, so it’s hard to understand why Rebi would send him a mezuzah. But Rebi explained to the king, whose name was Artbon, “this thing protects you while you sleep.” There are times when you are not involved in the world, in the marketplace. You are inside, taking care of personal business, and that’s when you need the mezuzah. It doesn’t stop there. When you put up a mezuzah, the lower part of the mezuzah faces outward from the house, in such a way that it has an effect upon the external world as well. It’s meant to protect you not only when you’re inside, but as you come and go.

That being the case, we’ll be doing a tremendous favor for ourselves and for others if we make sure that every Jew has a kosher mezuzah on his house. As individuals, the Jews are successful in today’s open, pluralistic society that gives free rein to everyone’s talents and abilities. However, on a national level, we’re still like a sheep among seventy wolves, and we need as much protection as possible. We are all guarantors of one another, and what happens to one Jew affects every other Jew. You don’t have to go to the shuk without your tefillin. And when you come back home, you don’t have to return to a dark house. Put up a mezuzah and shine a lot of light!

Adopted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 19, pp. 121-128 of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztz’l Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the old city of Jerusalem