A mezuzah is parchment scroll, on which the Shema is handwritten by an expert scribe.
A mezuzah mounted on the right side of the doorpost designates the home as Jewish, reminding us of God and our heritage. It is also a symbol of God's watchful care over the home. The placing of a mezuzah on the doors of a home or office protects the inhabitants -- whether they are inside or outside.
Mezuzah: (Lit. “doorpost”): A small parchment scroll upon which the Hebrew words of the Shema are handwritten by a scribe. Mezuzah scrolls are rolled up and affixed to the doorposts of Jewish homes, designating the home as Jewish and reminding those who live there of their connection to God and their heritage.
What Constitutes a Kosher Mezuzah?
The decorative case containing the mezuzah scroll is just that: a mere container. What’s important is the scroll, upon which the first two sections of the Shema are handwritten, beginning with the eternal words “Hear o Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” These selections both contain God’s instruction to affix the mezuzah: “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
These words are handwritten by an expert scribe who is trained in the many laws involved in writing a mezuzah, including the requirement that it be written with special intention and that the words be written in order.
Every single letter in the mezuzah must be properly formed. A single crack in the parchment or any omission can invalidate the entire scroll. A printed mezuzah is invalid. For this reason it is vital that it be purchased from a reputable scribe or retailer.
On the reverse side of the scroll, the scribe writes one of God’s names: Sha-dai. The three letters of this name form an acronym for the Hebrew words that mean “Guardian of the doorways of Israel.” Since this name of G-d begins with the letter shin, mezuzah cases are often decorated with that letter.
Where Do Mezuzahs Hang?
You should hang a mezuzah on just about every doorway that belongs to you. Notable exceptions are doors leading to bathrooms and small closets.
The mezuzah should be hung on the right side of the door, on the top third of the doorway. The mezuzah should be right-side up, and slanted so that the top of the mezuzah faces inwards towards the room.
What Does the Mezuzah Mean?
Judaism is not confined to synagogues. We strive for spirituality even within the comfort and familiarity of our own homes. The mezuzah on the doorpost reminds those who walk through that Godly life and Torah accompany them wherever they go.
Our sages teach that a mezuzah has the unique property of protecting the inhabitants of the home where it is hung—whether the inhabitants are inside or outside that home. The mezuzah can be compared to a “helmet,” a veneer that protects us against the dangers that surround us in our lives.
The Talmud teaches that while most kings sit on the inside while their guards protect them from without, God stations His protection (as manifested in the mezuzah) on the outside, protecting His beloved people.
God promises that anyone who carefully observes the mitzvah of mezuzah will lead a longer, richer life, as will their descendants, as Deuteronomy states, “So that you will prolong your days and the days of your children.”
When passing through a doorway where a mezuzah has been affixed, we glance at it and touch it. Some people then kiss their fingertips. This serves as a reminder throughout the day that God is always with us, inside or outside our homes.
Check the Mezuzah!
It is customary to have mezuzahs checked twice every seven years, or even every year, prior to the High Holidays. Even if the mezuzah was purchased from a reputable source and previously found to be perfectly kosher, there is always room for human error, and new cracks and other problems can appear with time. Of course, this checking must be done by an expert scribe.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, would often urge people who encountered health challenges or other difficulties to have their mezuzahs (and tefillin) checked to make sure that every scroll was in good shape and properly placed on the doorpost.
If you need help getting a new mezuzah or having your existing ones checked, closest Chabad rabbi will be happy to assist you.