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Visitors to Israel from the Far East discover a brilliant, new monitoring system: the mezuzah.


Our company recently hosted visitors from the Far East who had come to collaborate on a project at our Israel office. The two visitors engaged in some pretty strange behavior.

They passed through the doorframe, very slowly. Then they both crouched down near the doorpost and examined it intently. They waved their hand past the door frame several times, went out of the room and came in again, and shared a heated exchange with each other.

"An electrical surveillance system is installed on every door!"

"Wow," one of the visitors said to my co-worker excitedly, "I've never seen this kind of device before. Such brilliant technology. Is this the way your company monitors its employees' movements?"

My co-worker looked at the visitor warily. "Um, what are you talking about?"

"This," he replied, jabbing at the mezuzah on the doorpost. "It must be an electrical surveillance system. It's installed on every door of this building!"

We all had a good laugh and made clear that there was nothing electronic about the mezuzahs sprinkled liberally throughout. Big Brother notwithstanding, we briefly explained the concept of the mezuzah and the widespread custom to kiss the mezuzah upon entering or exiting.

"Truth is," my co-worker later noted, "a mezuzah is a kind of surveillance system. It reminds the Jew that there is Someone monitoring his movements, Someone who sees everything."

I'd never thought about it quite that way before. God certainly is aware of my every action and thought. But am I aware of His presence? How often do I fail to remember that, as our Sages say referring to God's supreme knowledge of Man, "An Eye sees, an Ear hears, and all the incidents are recorded in a book"?

A few years ago, while apartment-hunting, we found what appeared to be our dream home. It was in an ideal location, in a great building with wonderful neighbors, but there was one small catch...

"You need to know one thing about this apartment," said one of the neighbors honestly. "It's on the ground floor, just off the lobby, and the walls are not very sound-proof. So if you wanna yell at your kids or discuss really personal things, just keep in mind that everyone can hear you as they walk in and out!"

We didn't take the apartment. Awareness of fellow human beings and what they'd think of me if I rant and rave is acute and real, but what about awareness of my Maker, who is infinitely aware of my every move and word? Where is my consciousness of His presence?

The mezuzah opens the doors of our inner awareness of God's constant presence in our lives and our lifelong presence before Him.

Shakespeare said all the world's a stage, and the Jew has been given props to use throughout his performance on Earth, including the precious mezuzah. Much has been said about the mezuzah protecting the Jewish People, but even more than the spiritual protection it affords is the opportunity it offers us to connect to God each time we enter or exit a room; the reminder to raise our consciousness of His omnipresence myriad times a day.

There is a story told about the great sage known as the Chafetz Chaim who was once traveling in a wagon when the driver spotted an orchard by the side of the road, full of tempting, ripe fruit.

"Wait here for a minute," the driver said, jumping out of the coach, "I'm going to pick some fruit." The he turned to his passenger and instructed him: "Stand guard and tell me if anyone comes by!"

The driver hadn't plucked a single apple when the venerable rabbi shouted, "He's watching! He's watching!" Terrified, the wagon driver bolted and ran with lightning speed to the coach. Panting, out of breath, he cast a furtive glance behind him, afraid of being apprehended by the observer. But there was not a soul in sight.

"You lied to me!" he yelled at the Chafetz Chaim. "There's no one around!"

"Of course there is," the rabbi insisted. "The One Above is everywhere, always watching, and He sees everything."

Our Asian visitors revealed to me a secret more valuable and complex than even the most advanced surveillance system. Now when I pass by a mezuzah, I remember I'm being monitored -- by the One who sees and hears everything, even in the innermost room of my house, even with soundproof walls and the door locked up tight.

So the next time you encounter a mezuzah, why not try this fresh variation on a colloquial theme: Kiss and wake up!

May 6, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 11

(11) Rachel, June 18, 2009 5:53 PM

Why kiss with right hand?

(5) Shimon A. said to kiss the mezuzah with right hand, does anyone know why? Thanks. and by the way, it's a nice thing to kiss the mezuzah-shows you love it, love Hashem, connecting.. but the actual mitzvah is I believe to put it up- you're not sinning if you pass by and don't kiss it. Either way, why with the right hand? thanks.

(10) E.L., June 18, 2009 12:31 PM

Truer than you think?

I have heard that there are people today who, through the misuse of kaballah, can "read" mezuzahs--they can somehow tell you everything that has ever happened in a particular room (in detail) if you bring them the mezuzah. Such practices are discouraged (There's a whole book by Rabbi Hillel called FAITH AND FOLLY against the misuse of practical Kabbalah), but it is interesting to know that such a power is hidden in the mezuzah.

(9) Ben, June 14, 2009 12:37 PM

Thank You for the article!

It takes a lot of awareness to realize that everything is from G-d. Of course we don't believe that G-d is watching us under surveillance in order to punish but instead the surveillance is to keep our evil desires in order. Just like you said with the Chofetz Chaim in the end - He's always watching. Best of luck seeing G-d in every day events (even at work)!

(8) Yaakov Novograd, June 11, 2009 11:11 PM

Good essay, but what's the source for kissing mezuzos?

Thank you for this good article which reminded me of a couple of pages in the contemporary classic "Rav Schwab on Prayer"(Artscroll/Mesorah NY 2003)where, beginning on page 339, it says: At the end of Rambam,Hil. Mezuzah, there is a remarkable statement: When he comes and goes, he should become aware of the existence of the One God, and remember, his Love for God, and this will awaken him from his "sleep" ... And written parenthetically on page 342: By the way, the Gemarah does not talk of "kissing the mezuzah," but rather, one is encouraged to simply place his hand on it to associate himself with the meaning of its contents.

(7) Ashley Bell, June 11, 2009 4:45 AM

Something in the air - the scent of Torah?...

I have overheard a person not accustomed to the mezuzah, upon seeing one, say that he thought it to be a deoderizer dispenser that emitted a subtle fragrance to mask bad odours. He sniffed it & said 'I think this thing is faulty - it doesn't smell'.

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