It was there when I moved in. Attached to the front screen door was a small glass cylinder with a miniature scroll inside, sealed with gold caps on the top and bottom (see the image). You are forgiven if you have never heard the word before—I had to look it up to find the word that described it.
According to Wikipedia, a mezuzah (Hebrew “doorpost”; plural: mezuzot) is a piece of parchment called a klaf contained in a decorative case and inscribed with specific Hebrew verses from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21). These verses consist of the Jewish prayer Shema Yisrael, beginning with the phrase: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord (is) our God, the Lord is One”. In mainstream Rabbinic Judaism, a mezuzah is affixed to the doorpost of Jewish homes to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) to “write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house” (Deuteronomy 6:9)…. According to halakha (Jewish law and jurisprudence, based on the Talmud), the mezuzah should be placed on the right side of the door or doorpost, in the upper third of the doorpost, approximately shoulder height, within approximately 3 inches (8 cm) of the doorway opening (I think I have it right). Care should be taken to not tear or damage the parchment or the wording on it, as this will invalidate the mezuzah.
The mezuzah is attached to Jewish history. Generally, halakha requires Jews living in the Diaspora (outside of the Land of Israel) to affix a mezuzah within 30 days of moving into a rented house or apartment. For a purchased home or apartment in the Diaspora, or a residence in Israel (owned or rented), the mezuzah is affixed immediately upon moving in. The reason for this difference is that there is an assumption that when a Jew lives in Israel, Israel shall remain his/her permanent residence, whereas a home in the Diaspora is temporary.The procedure is to hold the mezuzah against the spot upon which it will be affixed. A blessing is then recited: Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‘olam, asher qideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu liqboa‘ mezuzah. “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His mitzvot (commandment) and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.” Any Jew can recite the blessing, provided they are old enough to understand the significance of the mitzvah. After the blessing, the mezuzahis attached. Whenever passing through the doorway, many people touch a finger to the mezuzah as a way of showing respect to God. (This is now my daily practice.)
The mezuzah directs our spiritual orientation:
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (KJV):
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
Deuteronomy 11:13-21(KJV) is more explicit, carrying with a promise and a curse, following the theological outlook of the Old Testament:
And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full. Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the Lord’s wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord giveth you. Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates: That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth.
My mezuzah has inspired a deeper look at Jewish spirituality, and spirituality in general. Several years ago I began to compile a database of Judeo-Christian terms. As I compiled these terms it dawned upon me that it is simply impossible to separate the two. They are intertwined and cannot be detached. The mezuzah’s presence on my front door is a constant reminder to be in contact with the Judaic tradition. I am surrounded by the sense of the continuing journey, from Father Abraham onward, living and breathing it day by day. How fortuitous it was to find it on my door, left for me by the previous owners to use in my new home. I now make a point to touch it upon leaving and entering my home, and this action is becoming more and more habitual. I feel that it is directing my thoughts in the way that the mitzvah intended. I recommend it to you as well. Now you know its history and its meaning. It is a powerful symbol with the power to deepen life, as it has deepened mine.