The Word Mezuzah
In Biblical times, mezuzah was simply the word for the doorpost of a house. The original mezuzah was the doorpost of your tent and the original Passover directive was to smear hyssop and smear blood on those very mezuzot.
Today the meaning of the mezuzah has been transferred from the doorpost to the small box attached to the doorpost. Sometimes the word mezuzah refers even more specifically to the scroll of parchment inside the box, on which two Scripture passages from Deuteronomy are written.
The verses inscribed on the parchment scroll inside the mezuzah illuminate its origin and purpose.
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
Right from these words we have the modern day mezuzah that came to be in this form more than 2,000 years ago.
Long ago, there were Talmudic arguments about how to place it on the doorpost. Some believed that the mezuzah should be placed straight up and down to connect to God, while others argued for a horizontal placement, connecting to all the people of the world. The general, accepted compromise is to affix the mezuzah on a 45-degree angle, and while there are certainly exceptions, the mezuzah is often found affixed to the top third of the doorpost on the right (as one enters) with the upper portion slanted inward.
Look at your mezuzah or check out one the next time you visit a synagogue or Jewish home. Look for the Hebrew letter, Shin. Why is this Hebrew letter, Shin, on every mezuzah? What does it mean? Frequently, it is believed that shin stands for “Shema,” the Jewish blessing; in fact, it stands for “Shaddai,” the Hebrew word meaning, “God as our protector.” When passing through the door, one must touch and kiss the word, Shaddai, and recite the following prayer: "May God protect my going out and my coming in from now on and ever more."
Mezuzot Design and Art
An interesting fact: In the Middle Ages under the influence of the Kabbalah, or mystical Judaism, names of angels and other symbols were added to the parchments. The medieval rabbi, Maimonides, spoke out against such additions, but his discussion led maranos—secret Jews—to put an angel such as Gabriel or Raphael on the right side of the door, in the place where the mezuzah would have been found had they been free to do so.
The making of ceramic or other decorative cases for mezuzot has become an art form all its own. If you’re selecting a mezuzah for your home, you have countless options from which to choose—perhaps you want a traditional case, or maybe you’re looking for something more modern like the sushi mezuzah pictured here!