The mezuzah, a small parchment scroll inside a decorated case placed on the doorposts of Jewish homes and establishments, carries deep historical and spiritual significance within the Jewish tradition. In this blog post, we will explore the history of the mezuzah, the custom of kissing it, and the true mitzvah of remembering the Exodus from Egypt (Yetziat Mitzrayim) associated with it.
The origin of the mezuzah can be traced back to biblical times, specifically to the commandment found in the book of Deuteronomy (6:4-9, 11:13-21), which instructs Jews to inscribe the words of the Shema prayer on their doorposts and gates.
Kissing the Mezuzah: The mezuzah serves as a visible reminder of Jewish identity and faith, as well as a symbol of God’s presence and protection within the home. Since it is placed along every doorway except for bathrooms, those who are careful to kiss may still only kiss on the front door, or other significant doorways. Mezuzot are affixed to the right-hand side of doorposts within the home, as well as in other appropriate locations in public spaces.
The custom of kissing the mezuzah when entering or exiting a room is a way for Jews to express reverence and connection to God’s commandments. It is also a typical custom of kissing the cover of a book of Torah before and after learning for instance. It is a physical act that signifies respect and love for the Torah and their desire to connect, but it is important to understand that kissing the mezuzah is not a mitzvah. It is only a nice, optional custom that some people decide to do.
The Mezuzah Mitzvah: While kissing the mezuzah has become a widespread custom, popularized by the Ari z”l—an 18th century kabbalist who lived & taught in Tzfat— it is essential to remember the true mitzvah associated with the mezuzah. It’s primary purpose is to adorn any doorpost as outlined in the Shema, and then it is meant as a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt (Yetziat Mitzrayim). The mezuzah serves as a constant reminder of God’s redemption of the Jewish people from slavery and their journey to freedom. It is a tangible link to the foundational story of Jewish history, reinforcing the importance of gratitude, freedom, and ethical living.
The mezuzah, therefore, serves as a dual reminder. It reminds Jews of their commitment to God’s commandments, as well as their responsibility to live in a manner that reflects the values and lessons learned from the Exodus narrative. It also marks spaces as being distinct, denoting a Jewish home, yard, or business as different to any other.
Kissing the mezuzah is a custom that expresses reverence and connection to God’s commandments, but it is crucial to remember that the true mitzvah associated with the mezuzah is the remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt—the preeminent example of God’s redemption of the Jewish people. By embracing the mezuzah’s message and practicing its associated mitzvah, Jews affirm their commitment to a life of spiritual growth, freedom, and ethical living inspired by the Exodus narrative.