Tag Archives: peace

The Mezuzah: Our Reminder to Bring Peace to Our Homes

A Mezuzah at the Door

So you’ve bought a new home. Or found a new apartment. Perhaps you are moving into your own home for the very first time. Or, you are establishing a home together with your new husband, wife, partner or significant other.

Judaism has long recognized the dedication of a new home as a milestone in our personal lives. (Indeed, you can find many beautiful Jewish home dedication ceremonies online, including this one.)

Traditionally,  a Jewish home is not complete without a mezuzah on its doorpost.

You may have noticed that a mezuzah is often hanging neither vertically or horizontally, but rather is tilted at an angle. The origin of this custom can teach us about an important Jewish value: Shalom bayit, peace in the home.

The custom to hang the mezuzah at an angle began as the result of an almost one thousand year old disagreement. The great Torah scholar Rashi (1040-1105) ruled that the mezuzah should be hung vertically. He did this because in a Sephardic community, such as the one in which he lived, the Torah is held in a vertical position when it is read. On the other hand, Rashi’s grandsons lived in an Ashkenazic milieu. Because the Torah is laid in a horizontal position for reading in Ashkenazic communities, these grandsons ruled that the mezuzah should be hung horizontally.

In the spirit of compromise, the custom became to hang the mezuzah at an angle.

Put another way, at the very moment when we enter our homes, we are reminded of the importance of finding a way to live in peace with one another.

The point isn’t that we’ll always see eye to eye with the folks we live with; rather, it’s that we commit to working through our disagreements with one another.

The very first word on the mezuzah scroll is “Shema,” or listen. We make a commitment to listen to each other and to find a way to live in peace with each other.

Shalom bayit, like so many of our values, is not to be attained all at once. Rather, we make a commitment to work with our loved ones towards this goal each day, with its blessings, each day, with its challenges.

Each day, when we return to our homes, we see our mezuzah, our reminder of peace and compromise, our reminder of the type of home we would like to create, before ever we cross our threshold.


Kindling the Lights of Peace: A Meditation for Shabbat Candle-Lighting

Shabbat Candles

It is rare that I write the words I plan to speak during Shabbat worship at my congregation – Beth Israel in Florence, SC. In any case, even if I knew the words in advance, I would typically wait to post my remarks until after the Sabbath was over. However, this week feels different: I wanted to share this meditation before Friday night, that others might use it, if they so wish, when they light the candles for Shabbat.

After lighting the Sabbath candles,
many people wave their hands in a circular motion three times
and bring their hands to their face when finished.
A beautiful interpretation of this practice
is that it helps us bring
the light and peace of Shabbat
into our neshamas (our souls), our homes,
and our families.

Most weeks, I appreciate this personal practice.
But this week feels different.

These past weeks have marked
the beginning and escalation
of the conflict in Israel and Gaza,
the terrors of ISIS in Iraq and Syria,
and the outpouring of unaccompanied minors in America –
refugee children from Central America –
escaping violence and hunger.

In ancient times when our ancestors suffered in Egypt,
their cries reached the highest of heavens.
Even when we differ as to the political solutions to these crises,
is it not true that these cries have reached us as well?
Do they not circle ‘round the world and pierce our hearts?

Do we not hear the cries from bloodshed and violence;
hatred and fanaticism; hopelessness and intolerance?

Have we not had enough?
(Ever mindful that we who have had enough
are mere onlookers, opining in the comfort
of our living rooms!)

Oseh Shalom
You are the Maker of Peace.
Why is it that you don’t make peace here on earth?

Shalom Rav
You are the God of Peace.
Place Your Great Peace
Upon Your children
Upon the world, our world, Your world!

I’m not an expert at peace-making.
I simply know that what has been,
has not been sufficient.
And that what will yet be
must be, need be, demands
something different.

It is not enough to send the light from the candles
into my neshama alone this week.
Not enough at all.

This week, I propose that as we kindle the lights,
all of us present (not only those lighting the candles)
take our hands and circle them
such that even as we bring the light into our neshamas,
we also send it out into the world –
out into this room, into this town, and beyond.

I pray that the light and peace of Shabbat
meet those cries that are circling ‘round this world;
that it meet those cries with open heart.

I know that such an action cannot alone bring peace.
But I know that without an open heart,
without the care and concern
of people all around the world,
without attention and love
there will be no peace.

We are taught that the Sabbath
is the great symbol of and teacher of peace.
These lights we kindle carry its promise.
I don’t know how peace will come.
But I know that it must yet be:

“Let it come
like wildflowers,
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace.”
– Yehuda Amichai