Q. Is it true that the mezuzah on the door brings you good luck?
A. The serious purpose of the mezuzah is to indicate that this is a house dedicated to the One God and Jewish identity.
There is a popular view that it also wards off ill-fortune. Joshua Trachtenberg, in his “Jewish Magic and Superstition”, 1939, chapter 10, shows that this view was not limited to the masses.
A Talmudic passage, expounding the verse, “that your days may be multiplied”, declares that premature death will befall the homes of those who do not obey the command of mezuzah properly.
The Zohar divided the word mezuzot into two – “zaz mavet”, “death departs”, and urged that every room should have a proper mezuzah.
The 13th century authority, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, said, “If Jews knew how useful the mezuzah was, they would not lightly disregard it. They may be sure that no demon has power over a house where the mezuzah is properly affixed. In our house I believe we have close to 24 mezuzot.”
According to Solomon Luria, Rabbi Meir found that when he fixed a mezuzah to the door of his study, an evil spirit no longer tormented him when he took an afternoon nap.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (author of the “Sh’nei Luchot HaB’rit”), asserted that with a mezuzah is on the door of a house, “every destroyer and demon must flee from it”.
Even today there are those who insist that if something unpleasant happens, people should check whether their mezuzot are still in good condition.
In war-time some soldiers have been known to carry mezuzot in their pockets to deflect enemy bullets. Many people, men and women, wear a mezuzah around their neck as a charm. Trachtenberg even says that he had heard of a nun who dropped her purse, and among the contents that fell out was – a mezuzah!
How seriously should we take this attitude to a major religious practice?
Maimonides warns against “those people who convert a command intended primarily to imbue our people with a belief in God and a desire to serve Him with love, into a mere talisman which they in the foolishness of their heart think has some magical power”, and warns that they “are risking their portion in the World to Come”.
More valuable, then, than the rather primitive feeling that the mitzvah is a physical protection is the sacred commitment to faith in God in the sight of a sometimes unfriendly environment.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com