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The Blazing Mezuzah

The Blazing Mezuzah

In the midst of a fraternity party, my Jewish spark was unexpectedly ignited.


To appreciate the victory of the Jewish revolt against Syrian-Greeks, it's important to recognize that our enemies attacked us on a spiritual front. The Greeks wanted their culture to reign supreme, and that necessitated abolishing the strongest competing culture in human history: Judaism. Thus the Greeks sought to uproot the study of Torah, observance of mitzvot, and our distinct Jewish identity.

I can relate to this dynamic in my own life. The Hebrew school I attended taught me how to read Hebrew, to say Shema, and that a mezuzah is placed on the doorways of Jewish homes. I remember one Hebrew school project when I made a mezuzah by writing the Shema onto a rolled up piece of paper and placing it into a decorative case. But with no deeper explanation, that was the extent of my education regarding mezuzot.

Torn Scrolls

Many years later, I was a college student and joined a fraternity. None of the other members were Jewish, but they were aware that I was Jewish. At our school, members of a fraternity often lived together by renting a house near the campus. Religious Jews owned many of these houses, as evident by the mezuzot affixed on the doorposts. I recognized those little boxes, but paid them little attention.

One night at a fraternity party, I noticed two fraternity members intentionally pry a mezuzah off the doorpost. I followed them around the house and realized they were collecting the mezuzot as they moved from doorpost to doorpost. I followed them into a room and watched them remove the scrolls from the decorative casings. They opened the scrolls, tried to read the writing, and then crumpled the scrolls up in their hands, and tore some in half.

The small spark of Judaism inside me made me feel obligated to stop them.

"Why did you take those off the doorposts?" I asked.

"I dunno," one of them answered, "we just want to see what's inside."

"You should have left them where they were. You're not supposed to take them down."

"Well, what are they?"

"It's called a mezuzah and they go on the doorposts of Jewish houses."

"Why?" he asked.

I was stunned into silence and then admitted, "I don't know." As these words slipped from my mouth, I could feel the strength of my position weakening.

"Well, what's written inside them?" His tone of voice showed genuine interest, but it clearly put me on the defensive.

Again I responded, "I don't know."

They continued with a stronger tone of expectation, "Well, why are they on every door?"

"I don't know."

If you're the Jew and you don't know, then why should we care?

They looked at me with scorn, and finally one of them said, "Well, if you're the Jew and you don't know, then why should we care?!"

This question was shocking and painful. Perhaps intensified by my intoxication, I continued arguing with them and demanded they give me the mezuzot.

Finally, one of them walked out of the room, and returned with a handful of mezuzah cases and scrolls. He looked at me, grinned maliciously and said, "You want them so badly? Come and get them!" -- and he threw the handful of mezuzot into a burning fireplace.

I was shocked. It took but a few seconds for the mezuzot to be consumed in the flames.

Inner Flame

I walked out of the house, dejected and heartbroken. I sat down in the cold night and replayed the incident over and over in my mind, each time coming back to the same painful question: "If you're the Jew and you don't know, then why should we care?"

This incident ignited my curiosity and became the catalyst for my road back to Torah and Judaism. Today I now realize: Every word of Torah we learn and every mitzvah we perform is an extension of our victory over the Syrian-Greeks. They tried to destroy our connection to God and His Torah. But instead, they ignited a deeper flame inside us.

As we light the Chanukah menorah, may the flames inspire us to carry on the victory of the Maccabees -- the victory of Jewish survival, Jewish education, and Jewish pride.


December 10, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Beverly Kurtin, February 3, 2010 11:04 AM

How many others?

It would be interesting to know how many other Jews don't know what is inside a Mezuzah. I've had other Jews point out my Mezuzah with a comment that it's tilted! So much for what our kids are learning in cheder.

(6) anonymous, February 3, 2010 11:03 AM

funny how hate can bring us closer to who we are

There are many of us who have found our way back through the heat of the hatred toward the Jews. (from an essay by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner) "I heard in the name of Rav Chaim Volzhiner that if a Jew doesn't make kiddush {the benediction on wine said on Shabbos and holidays} then the gentile makes havdalah {the service said at the end of Shabbos, separating between Shabbos and the weekdays}. If a Jew doesn't sanctify (kiddush) himself but rather, tries to melt into the society of the gentiles, then those gentiles will decide to exclude him, keeping him separate (havdalah). " I recently heard from a friend, that there are two ways back (to Judaism, to Israel...) one is by way of the Shepherd, the other is by way of the wolf. May we all find our way with the merciful hand of the Shepherd and be spared the pain of the wolf.

(5) Syd Goldberg, February 3, 2010 11:03 AM

great article Our Rabbi spoke this Shabbos on the importance of the Mezzuzah. I'll e mail the article to my friends.

(4) Hadassa, February 3, 2010 11:02 AM


What a powerful piece. Short and concise, but so very moving

(3) antonio, February 3, 2010 11:02 AM

Mezuzoth helped me to make tekuva to G-D

The first time I have seen a mezuzah was about 25 years ago in Florence. I was going there from my city, Bologna, for a short journey and I was visiting the nice synagogue. At the souvenir shop I observed some little oblong cases in silver, gold and porcelaine witout knowing at all their use nor their meaning. I am born christian, baptized,confirmed, but after my teens I stopped praying, I feeled G-D irrilevant for me, or even absent. At the beginning of eighties i began to feel uncomfortable with my near-atheism and to read some book about judaism, to read some bible books, to study the story of the ancient hebrew communities of Italy. That morning at the Florence main synagogue I learned that the mezuzah was one little box containing the very core of hebrew credo: Shemah Israel!and that it was a mitzvah to expose it on the door. Since then I have the mezuzah on my home door (with the due Torah parchemin within) and my road toward G-D has been a very fruitful one, also if it is very long indeed.

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