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Parshat Ekev: Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25; Isaiah 49:14-5:13.

In today’s world of red or blue states, far left or far right, compromise has become a dirty word. There is a prevailing sense in discourse that it must be all or nothing, black or white, right or wrong. Nuance, shades of meaning and willingness to meet in the middle, to compromise to create win-win situations has been lost. This was not always the case. 

Jeffrey Lasday

The art of compromise was once a time-honored technique that was used to build bridges between opposing viewpoints and promote collaboration between opposing sides. Compromise is a pragmatic approach that enables people to get things done. Each party acknowledges the other’s needs and point of view and gives in a little to still get a lot, if not all, of what they want. As part of our Jewish tradition, we have a signpost, a daily reminder of the importance of seeking compromise as a way of ending conflict. 

In this week’s Torah portion of Ekev, we find the words that are included in the mezuzah:

Impress My words upon your very heart: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead and teach them to your children — reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up; and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 11:18-20)

As a way of fulfilling the commandment contained in these words “inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,” the sages created the concept of a special box, a mezuzah (which means doorpost), that would be attached to Jewish doorposts. Inside these special boxes are placed the words from this week’s parshah along with the biblical passage found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

When it came to how the mezuzah should be hung on our doorposts there was a major rabbinic disagreement. Rashi, (1040-1105), the leading Torah scholar of his time, declared that the mezuzah should be hung vertically so that it would point to the Almighty in Heaven. Rabbani Tam, Rashi’s grandson, argued that standing up was disrespectful and that the mezuzah should be hung horizontally like the way that the Torah and Tablets were arranged in the holy ark in the Temple.

To accommodate these two opposing viewpoints a pragmatic compromise was reached. It was declared that a mezuzah should be hung neither vertically nor horizontally, but on an angle with its top leaning into the home. 

The next time you pass by a mezuzah, think about this rabbinic solution to two conflicting viewpoints. Sometimes it is better to create a solution where everyone benefits, where each side compromises a bit in order to maintain peace and pragmatically get things done. 

Jeffrey Lasday is now senior chief, External Affairs, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

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