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The Philadelphia Jewish Voice

The Delaware Valley's Progressive Alternative

Volume 1 - Number 1 - July 2005

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Living Judaism


The "Living Judaism" feature in each issue is focused on Jewish Spirituality, Meaning and Activism with invited columns written by Rabbis belonging to the various movements of Judaism.


Rabbi Goldie Milgram RebGoldieM@aol.com resides in Mt. Airy, directs the resource-rich web-site ReclaimingJudaism.org, and is author of "Reclaiming Judaism as a Spiritual Practice"  and "Make Your Own Bar/Bat Mitzvah: A Personal Guide to a Meaningful Rite of Passage."
Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Loving and Listening: Mezuzah Consciousness

One of the great secrets to increasing harmony at home is embedded in one primary Jewish practice. No, not "honor your mother and father," though that would be a good choice. Actually, there is a way to relate to the mezuzah as much more than a symbol of Jewish identity, because its deeper function is as a Jewish consciousness-shifting tool.

When a Jewish person comes to the doorpost of her home, she is not meant to enter quickly and spill the contents of the day’s challenges over those inside. Our practice is to pause beside the mezuzah and recall the core message that is framed by the first words of the first two paragraphs scribed on a tiny scroll inside: Shema v’ahavta – "Listen and you will love." By listening and reflecting before encountering, the potential for shalom bayit, harmony in the home is greatly increased.

It is a mitzvah to put up a mezuzah, a mitzvah to pause beside and place a kiss of awareness upon it, and it is hiddur mitzvah, the "beautification" of a mitzvah to have lovely mezuzah cases. A mezuzah is meant to be posted on every doorway of your living and office spaces (except bathrooms). The Hebrew word for threshold is eh-den, which is the root word of Adonai, "God." When leaving one room and entering another you are crossing an Adonai space and the mezuzah is there to help you achieve an inner holiness of intention during transitions.

With practice, mezuzah can become a tool that helps you to shift yourself to let go of where you were and re-center yourself to be more fully present to your next steps and encounters. The root of mezuzah is zuz, "movement". Crossing thresholds, transitioning, can involve risk – heading out into the streets, leaving one dialogue to enter another, there are even mezuzot now available for cars! The mezuzah can be a remarkable reminder that many transitions require greater consciousness if they are to be done safely.

The origins of the mezuzah are traced to the Exodus story of when the slaves prepared to escape from Egypt. They marked their doorposts with animal blood to inform the messengers attacking the Egyptian households to "pass over" the living quarters of the slaves involved in the drive for freedom. Today we have moved past the sacrificial system as a religious form for transformation and holiness, now we mark our doorposts with mezuzot, which, when used with threshold consciousness, can help "blood" from appearing on the doorposts of our relationships.

Pause to listen at the doorways of your life. Are there spaces that might benefit from an infusion of holiness? Are there rooms in which unfortunate scenes have unfolded? Or is a new chapter of life beginning in one of those rooms – someone graduating from grade school, new baby coming, special guest arriving, a child off to college and now his room takes on a new purpose? Perhaps you are redecorating, a good time to change some of your mezuzah cases. On your own, or with someone involved in using that space, consider holding a mezuzah placing ritual that includes reflecting on your hopes for future encounters there. Or, if your home doesn’t have a mezuzah at all yet, you can hold a beautiful hannukat "dedication" ritual and party for habayit, "the home."

May you be blessed with the gifts that flow from mezuzah consciousness. If you are giving someone a mezuzah as a present for their new home, wedding or bar/bat mitzvah, include this column to amplify the meaning of mezuzah as a most precious and important present and practice.

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