By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
There is a widespread folk belief that the mezuzah on the doorpost of one’s home protects those within from danger. Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi offered this interpretation when he sent a Persian potentate a mezuzah as a gift (Yerushalmi Peah 1:1). Onkelos made a similar assertion when he explained the meaning of Mezuzah to the Emperor Hadrian (Avodah Zarah 11A). Note: both Sages’ comments were directed at prominent pagans!
It is commonly taught that the divine name “Shaddai” (Shin-Dalet-Yod: “Almighty”), placed on the reverse side of the mezuzah parchment (and on the exterior of many mezuzot holders), is an acronym for Shomer Daltot Yisrael – “Guardian of the doorways of Israel.” This perspective risks reducing the mezuzah to a mere amulet – a superstitious exercise in sympathetic magic.
Maimonides says of the mezuzah: “Whenever we enter or leave our home, we encounter this reminder of God… and are roused from our moral slumber and folly… recognizing that there is nothing truly permanent or eternal besides the Lord” (Hilchot Mezuzah 6:13).
The mezuzah is not intended to protect our homes from danger. It is a warning label affixed to those homes: the real danger is our own misguided, illusory faith in such deceptively grand, material possessions.
The mezuzah invites us to be most at home with faith in the Almighty.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)