We are at the climax of the story of the Exodus. The final horrendous plague of killing the first born of man and beast has been described. Then follow the directions for that final and fateful night in Egypt including painting the doorposts with lambs’ blood so that God will pass over the Israelite houses and the plague of the death of the first born will be shut out.
Though God is everywhere, the wording is clear as is the English name of the holiday: God passes over the Israelites’ homes. However, we have a logistical problem. If the doorposts are painted as a sign to God, from the vantage point of being above, God could not see those doorposts. God would have to be at ground level, looking in.
I studied an insightful commentary about this portion that stated that God already knew which homes were Israelites’ homes. Painting the doorposts was meant as a sign to the homes’ inhabitants themselves. The suggestion was that painting the doorposts was the way that the Israelites could signal to God that they were ready, that they were actively participating in the Exodus.
If we compare those doorposts to our own, many of us look at a mezuzah, be it on our own homes or on those of neighbors, synagogues and businesses, and use it as an identifying factor: This is a Jewish place.
But let’s consider this further from the vantage point of our Israelite ancestors on that final night in Egypt. The mezuzah’s message is directed to those within more than to those standing outside the door. The text within says, “You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. … You shall be holy to your God. … I am Adonai your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” We are to live those words by treating all who walk through that door, whether because they live there, are visiting or are providing a service, as made in God’s image. It means that right at ground level, we are to be compassionate and just, marking holy time and loving others.
After all, the mezuzah points inward because that is where the commitment is, and our ancestors knew it.
Rabbi Barbara AB Symons is the spiritual leader of Temple David in Monroeville. This column is a service of ther Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association. PJC