Some years ago, when my wife and I were living in Israel, we bought our apartment from a fellow who (at the risk of severe understatement) was anti-religious. Given this background, a passing comment he made at our deal's closing seemed rather odd. He assured us that all the Mezuzot in the house were completely kosher. Noting my quizzical look, he then told my wife and I the following story:
Many years prior, his daughter had been born with a serious heart defect. After being told at the hospital that she didn't have long to live, he wandered the streets of Jerusalem in a daze. Finally, he came across an old Yemenite man and poured out his heart to him. The Yemenite advised him to buy Mezuzot and put them on his doorposts immediately.
Desperate for anything that could help his daughter, he ran to a religious neighborhood, asked where the nearest scribe lived, and bought several Mezuzot. After putting them up, he returned to the hospital where he was greeted with great news. Lo and behold, a miracle had occurred: His daughter's heart defect had disappeared!
When he finished telling us his story, the man then made a comment I will never forget. "You see" he said, "the Mezuzot are kosher. And if my daughter should ever decide to become religious, I can't stand in her way - because she belongs to God. But if my son ever tries to become religious ... I'll kill him!"
The Yemenite man's advice to put up Mezuzot, as strange as it may sound, is actually in line with Jewish tradition. In this week's Parsha, the verse dealing with the Mezuzah is juxtaposed with a verse promising long life to one's children (see Deut. 11:20-21). Both these verses are written on the parchment of the Mezuzah, and many commentators therefore explain that Mezuzot help to protect children's health.
But it is not children alone who benefit from the Mezuzah's presence. Written on the outside of each parchment is the name of God, "Sha-dai." Among other things, this divine appellation is an abbreviation for the words "Shomer D'latei Yisrael" - "Guardian of the Gates of Israel." The Mezuzah, so to speak, guards the doors of a Jewish home.
Other sources see a different meaning to the Mezuzah. The Alshich notes that the Mezuzah is placed even upon the doors of rooms inside the house. Oftentimes, how a person appears in public is a far cry from how he acts in private. The Mezuzah therefore reminds us of the sanctity of the Jewish home.
Maimonides presents what is perhaps the most widely accepted understanding of Mezuzah. He explains that oftentimes people get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of making a living, that they lose their "God consciousness." The Mezuzah, however, provides a wonderful solution to this problem.
The Mezuzah contains a declaration of our Love of God and our commitment to observe His mitzvot. As we pass through the door and kiss the Mezuzah, we focus on God's inspirational "instructions for living," posted on the wall.
Says Maimonides: The Mezuzah is a constant reminder "that nothing endures forever; nothing is eternal but knowledge of the Almighty. Upon reminding himself of this fact, a person will return to a proper consciousness and walk in a proper path."