There’s a ‘mezuzah’ on the entrance to the White House, and leading into every room in the Kremlin…why? Becuase a mezuzah is not what you think it is
There is a mezuzah on the entry to the White House. There’s a mezuzah leading into every room in the Kremlin. Your avowed atheist neighbor has one that all the neighborhood can see!
I’ll explain. The word “mezuzah” means doorpost. In the Book of Deuteronomy we read: “And you shall write them on the doorposts (mezuzot) of your homes and your gates.”1 So, if we’re to be linguistic nit-pickers, the scroll is affixed to the mezuzah; it is not the mezuzah itself.
Okay, so beyond my trite witticism (my mother thinks I’m clever), what do we learn from the vernacular use of an architectural term to refer to a ritual object?
Chassidism emphasizes that G‑d has a plan—a passionate, inexplicable, irreplaceable desire that this world, warts and all, be transformed into a welcoming home for Him. That’s why He created it. All of creation exists only to exhibit G‑d. Humans tend to see it in reverse; we think of ourselves and our world as primary and then look to see where and if G‑d fits into the picture. The reverse is true; G‑d is, and we are here to prove it.
Like hidden treasure, divinity is just below the surfaceLike hidden treasure, divinity is just below the surface, waiting for us to expose it through a mitzvah. Every time we use a physical resource for something G‑dly, we illustrate its true character: a tool for us to discover the holy spark buried within.
It’s a pretty clever idea (I hope G‑d doesn’t mind my compliment). Divinity, while exciting, often seems too spiritual for nine-to-five people like us to grasp. When presented with it, we just gawk in awe. Materiality, on the other hand, we get. So G‑d embeds Himself in physical objects, and when we use them according to His instructions, we find Him. Like a metaphor, it makes the abstract tangible.