When I was younger, my older sister taught me how to make necklace beads out of FIMO clay – that bendable craft clay sold in a variety of colors at most arts stores. As I learned more about Judaism during high school, I studied the commandment to “inscribe these words on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:9, 11:20) and realized that those verses were the basis for why people put a mezuzah on the frame of the front door of their house. Then, I saw some very beautiful, professionally-made mezuzot on a trip to Israel and thought, “I could do that!” So, I decided to make my own mezuzah using my trusty FIMO clay. Granted, it’s not as fancy as a mezuzah made of Murano glass, but it was special because it had personal meaning. Furthermore, it was fairly simple to create, and it has traveled with me to every place I have lived since!
When I studied Jewish texts more formally in college, I came to see this particular mitzvah as very intriguing in part due to its peculiarity. After all, the paragraphs in the Torah that contais the mitzvah of mezuzot (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21) emphasizes the obligation to teach “these words” – specifically, to love God with all your heart, soul and might, but often interpreted as Torah in general – to one’s children and to speak of them in all of your doings. Why, then, if the real message is to engage in words of Torah with others, did the Torah specify that we also need to post them on the doorposts and gates of our homes?
Some have interpreted the purpose of the mezuzah as protecting the home from evil spirits and bad luck. But that just doesn’t feel very Jewish to me. It seems unlikely that a tradition which emphasizes the covenantal bond between a sole, non-corporeal deity and human beings would necessitate the use of a talisman. Indeed, isn’t that why Abraham – according to the Midrash – smashed the idols in his father’s workshop?
I believe that the primary purpose of the mezuzah is not to protect the inhabitants of a home from evil but to remind them to study and teach words of Torah in their comings and goings. If the Torah had just told us to meditate on and teach the words: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might,” it would have remained more of an ethereal commandment. Instead, by writing “these words” at the nexus of our transitioning between the private and public realms, our inner and outer selves, we are reminded to transition with purpose and presence, to more faithfully integrate the disparate physical and spiritual areas of our lives.
So go buy some FIMO, mix and match your colors, pick up a mezuzah scroll from your local synagogue, Judaica shop, or other trusted source, and make a mezuzah that will serve as a personal guidepost for you in your comings and goings.
Preston Neal, 26, is a freelance writer, Hebrew and Judaica teacher based in Manhattan. He graduated from Brandeis University in 2007 with a degree in Near Eastern & Judaic Studies. He blogs at www.theprestonian.com, and be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.