…and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…

In the Torah, though perhaps more familiarly as quoted from the Torah in the Sh’ma, we are commanded to, among a number of other rituals, affix the words of the Sh’ma to our doorposts.

The entire thing Sh’ma is formulated in the fashion of many other ancient near eastern documents. These documents are legal and social contracts between rulers and their subjects. We are subjects of God and this contract stipulates what we should do to mark ourselves as subjects of God, just as these other documents did for the subjects of earthly rulers. Among the things we and many other ancient peoples in the area did to mark ourselves as the property of a particular lord are to wear a particular variety of fringe and affix copies of the contract to our doorways to mark our homes as part of the geographical area covered by the contract. Hence, tzitzit and mezuzot.

Clearly, the legal nature of the Sh’ma is now far-removed from us, a metaphor that can no longer hold meaning. Yet we modern Jews continue to seek meaning in these things. Aside from kashrut, which appears elsewhere in the Torah, and the practice of wearing kipot, which does not appear anywhere in the entire Tanach, these things in the Sh’ma are the absolute most outwardly visible and some of the most emblematic things Jews still do. As such, we seek constantly still to find meaning or personal attachment to them.

In what she considers a move of incredible ritualized hilarity, my mother used a wood-burning tool to burn the exact Hebrew of “these words, which I command you this day” into her backyard gate. Regardless of how funny or flippant it may be, my mother enjoys playing with words and meaning and grammar in this way. As such, it is a vibrant, if silly, and highly personalized way of observing the injunction regarding doorposts and gates.

I for one, and I think this is probably common amongst many contemporary Jews, see these commandments as reminders to behave correctly. When I enter a room with a m’zuzah on the doorway, I am reminded that in this space I have just entered, as in all spaces, there are ways in which I must behave to maintain my moral and ethical as well as Jewish character. As such, my dorm room has a m’zuzah on the right side of the doorpost. My laptop has a car m’zuzah on it on the right side of the edge that opens, because my laptop is gateway to virtual places where I interact with people and where correct behavior is as necessary as it is elsewhere in life.

A few months ago, I read on some blog or another an interesting idea about online m’zuzot. Forgive me for nor remembering where I read this. The idea attempted to connect the act of touching a m’zuzah as one enters a room and then kissing the hand with which one just touched the m’zuzah to social action. The idea was then that one would use as a m’zuzah for the internet a website such as THE HUNGER SITE. For those not familiar with this most righteous of websites, there is a prominent button on this site which one clicks to give x amount of food to the hungry.

If I gave money to a conveniently-placed beggar every time I entered a room with a m’zuzah affixed to it, I might buy this parallel, but in my opinion the idea flops. Besides, at the time I had, and still have, a m’zuzah on my laptop to serve the purpose of an online m’zuzah. Since then, however, I have resumed blogging. The idea has fermented in my mind since I first read about the online m’zuzah concept. If the entrance to the web is my computer, which I have enough control over to affix a m’zuzah to, then it should have a m’zuzah. But what about my “home” on he web? What about my blog?

At first I thought about adding a picture of a m’zuzah to one of the columns of my blog, but then it occurred to me that I would then have only the image of the shell of the ritual, but not the meat of it, the words. So I settled on what you can now see in the top right hand corner of my blog. It has the words, as I arranged them in Sidur Eilu D’vareinu, as well as a little m’zuzah-like image so that the meaning of the words is obvious without having to read them. As soon as I uploaded the new header image and saw it in place, I said the appropriate brachah.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אדוני, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ לִקְבּוּעַ מְזֻוּזָה

Baruch atah, Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam. Asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu lik’bo’a m’zuzah.

Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the World, who sanctifies us through commandments and commands us to affix the m’zuzah.

So welcome to my home on the web. Be sure to kiss the m’zuzah on your way in.

4 Responses to …and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…

  1. gsmckinney October 11, 2007 at 12:55 am #

    The gate inscription certainly marks my territory, but at the time, it was probably more showing off my knowledge and my skills. Now it’s a reminder that I tend towards being excessively literal. But I would not have people think I’m mocking the veahavta! As one of the first bits of Hebrew that I understood well on several levels, it’s had quite an impact on my life.

  2. Harold October 11, 2007 at 10:43 am #

    Really nice post. I like the mezuzah on the top of your blog site. And it’s a much nicer welcome that the picture of you prominently displaying your middle finger.

  3. Tal October 15, 2007 at 2:44 pm #

    David, of all ridiculous things that you have come up with, I think I like this one most. What a silly but wonderful idea. I hope that other people follow suit, because it is a really charming way to think about the m’zuzah.

  4. Anastasia October 15, 2007 at 3:24 pm #

    I think that your reason for ritually using a traditional m’zuzah and the idea of The Hunger Site being an internet version of the m’zuzah are not incompatible (and as a side I really like that website and think that it is great that you are mentioning it in your post). You say that it is generally taken as a way to consciously consider your actions upon entering any space where one is placed. To make yourself aware that there are moral and ethical ways in which one should act everywhere but this is just a friendly reminder, this is if I have not terribly misconstrued your words. To me that is what going to the hunger site is in the case of this internet m’zuzah. You are acknowledging that you are entering a space and like in all spaces there is a way to act ethically. You are not feeding a “conveniently placed beggar” directly, you are touching a button with a cursor much like you would touch your hand to the m’zuzah, only in this case it would be rather difficult to kiss your curser after doing so. It is not about the effect I think so much as it is about the act and the conscious awareness that this act is supposed to induce. These are my thoughts on the matter and along with them I should note two things. One, I, not being Jewish only have what you have told me to go on. And two by expressing myself I am not saying what you have done is not valid. In fact I really like it and the new layout of your blog. It seems very appropriate.