Mezuzah (iStock)

Make sure your scroll is undamaged.

A mezuzah on the doorpost identifies a Jewish home. The sight of a mezuzah in a strange town has brought relief to travelers and refugees throughout our history.  And even though the mezuzah would still identify a Jewish home if the letters on the scroll wore off; it would not fulfill the technical requirements of the commandment. 

The month before Rosh Hashanah many Jews check that their mezuzot remain valid. If we see Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as days of judgment, it makes sense to see Elul, the month before the High Holidays, as time to make sure we are doing our good deeds properly.  

Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried (1804-1886), in his popular book of Jewish law, Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, praised people who have their mezuzot and tefillin checked in Elul. 

Rabbi Levi Kagan of Oak Park, a sofer — scribe who writes tefillin, mezuzot and Torah scrolls — notes that the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), would remind his followers every year to check their mezuzot. 

Centuries ago, according to Rabbi Kagan, people had more reason to check a mezuzah. The scroll of an outside mezuzah could become damaged by rain and snow; the scroll of an indoor mezuzah still could suffer from condensation on walls and leaky roofs.  Nowadays, mezuzot survive longer. Nonetheless, some people scrupulously check their mezuzot every year. 

Rabbi Yosef Lange, who worked as a sofer in Oak Park for decades until his recent move to Israel, notes that “Elul does become hectic for sofrim worldwide. Of course, not everyone checks their mezuzot but there is an increased volume.”  

Even so, Elul is not especially busy for Rabbi Kagan. He devotes most of his working hours to writing, rather than checking. For him, “every season is a busy season.”  

Rabbi Kagan connects getting your mezuzah checked with the tale of a city threatened by impending disaster. When the community gathered to pray for deliverance, the rabbi placed an unlikely object at the front of the synagogue as the most potent appeal: the local grocery scale. The grocer had recalibrated his scale every day, to make sure that he would not ever be guilty of theft from his suppliers or customers. 

In Rabbi Kagan’s words, “God likes it when we try to do everything right.” Checking your mezuzah, for Rabbi Kagan, means making sure you do things right. 

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