Bo: Exodus 10:1 – 14:16

The Erev Shabbat parshat Bo (the Eve of Sabbath of the week when we read the Torah section Bo) 2014 was my lucky day – I seem to have found an answer to a nagging question of many years.

During several years from 1989 to 1996, I had been working on a book on Mezuzah.  This was not a book about halachot (ritual laws) of mezuzah – there were many books on that subject – this was a book about the meaning of mezuah – its significance in Jewish history, philosophy, ethics, and mysticism.  By 1996, the book was finished and I signed a contract with the leading publisher of English Judaica – Jason Aronson.  I was supposed to deliver the finished manuscript in a few months, but I was dragging my feet.  One nagging question did not let me finish the book.  I was delaying sending the manuscript to the publisher while searching for an answer, till Jason Aronson went out of business and my book remained unpublished for many years until it first appeared online at Chabad.org – A Light unto My Path and was later printed in 2011 as The Light Unto My Path: A Mezuzah Anthology (Maon Noam,  2011).  What was the question?

The Zohar on Parshat Bo states that the spiritual source of the mitzvah (commandment) of mezuzah is in the story of Exodus when God commanded Jews to put blood on the two doorposts and the lintel so that God would skip Jewish houses during the plague of the firstborns.

And they shall take of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel… (Ex. 12:7)

And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. (Ibid, 13)

The obvious question is, if at that time we marked with blood both the doorposts and the lintel, why don’t we put three mezuzot (mezuzahs pl.) – one on each doorpost and on the lintel?  I searched for the answer everywhere but to no avail.  

One answer suggested to me by a kabbalist in Jerusalem was that, at the time of Exodus, Jews were commanded to use blood to mark entrances to their homes – this required putting blood on booth doorposts and the lintel.  Today, we affix a mezuzah on the doorpost, which contains the Name of God, YHWH, which represents the middah of Tifferet, which includes all three sides – right, left and the middle.  (The first three middot – lower sephirot, Divine emanations – Chesed, Gevurah and Tifferet. Chesed (love-kindness) is on the right, Gevurah (strict judgment) is on the left, and Tiferet (beauty, mercy) is in the middle uniting the opposite extremes of Chesed and Gevurah.) This was a logical answer and it made sense. For some reason, however, it did not satisfy me completely, but I remembered it.  That was some twenty years ago…

Let’s fast forward to 2014.  That year, reading this very same Parshat Bo (Torah portion Ex. 10:1 – 14:16) I thought that it might not be a coincidence that the commandment to put the blood on the doorposts and lintels follows immediately after the commandment to keep time by marking Roshei Chadoshim – New Moons (see my last post, Carpe Diem).  This got me thinking, might there be a connection between mezuzah and time?

The answer came like a bolt of lightning.  But of course!  The two doorposts and the lintel represent the three aspects of time: past, present, and future or more correctly, in another order: past, future, and present.  You see, the two doorposts represent the right and the left columns (kav yamin and kav smol) on the Eitz Chaim, the sephirotic tree; and the lintel represents the middle column (kav haemtzoi). The first three sephirot are Chochmah (wisdom), Binah (understanding) and Daat (knowledge); Chochmah being in the right column, Binah being in the left column and Daat being in the middle.  If you read my earlier post, It’s the Time, Stupid! you may remember that Chochmah represents the past, Binah represents the future and Daat represents the present.  Hence, the right doorpost represents the past, the left doorpost represents the future and the lintel represents the present.

 

Left Column

Middle Column

Right Column

 

Keter (Crown)

 

Binah (Understanding)

Left doorpost

Future

 

Chochmah (Wisdom)

Right doorpost

Past

 

Daat (Knowledge)

Lintel

Present

 

Gevurah (Strength)

Left

 

Chesed (Kidness)

Right

 

Tiferet (Beauty)

Middle

 

Chod (Splendor)

 

Netzach (Eternity)

 

Yisod (Foundation)

 

 

Malchut (Kingship)

 

 

As I wrote in my article, Rooms and Doors, mezuzah unifies fragmented space – each room having its specific purpose – into a whole we call a home.  Mezuzah also unifies fragmented consciousness, as one transitions from one room to another.  Similarly, mezuzah seems to unify time by connecting past, future, and present.  It also unifies our consciousness as we transition from the future into the present, which then fades into our past.

As I have been writing on this blog, the theme of time has been woven through the last several chapters of Bereshit (Genesis) and the beginning of Shemot (Exodus).  It is not coincidental then that this story ends with commandments unifying various aspects of time – past, present, and future.

Now, back to my nagging question: why are we no longer required to put up mezuzot on both doorposts and the lintel?  Why does a single mezuzah on the right doorpost suffice?  Recall the answer given to me by a kabbalist – it’s because the mezuzah parchment contains the holy Name of God, Tetragrammaton – YHWH.  Indeed so.  This name, pronounced “Havayah” is an amalgam meaning Hayah (is), Hoveh (was) and Yihieh (will be) connoting the eternal nature of the Eternal God, Who was, is and will be, because He is above time.  Now it all comes together. This holy Name that transcends time, unifies past, present and future into a coherent flow of time.  The aspects of the past, present, and future are already present in the mezuzah scroll, so we don’t need to put three mezuzot – one is enough.   

This may also help to explain an interesting inconsistency in this Torah portion. The first time God commands Jewish people to mark their doorposts and the lintel with blood (see above, Ex 12:7), the order is two doorposts and the lintel.  However later, when Moses instructs Jews about the details of this commandment, he reverses the order:

And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin… (Ibid., 19)

Why the change of order? As always with time, it depends on your frame of reference. In Chasidic thought, there are two frames of reference: m’lemalah lematah (“from up down,” i.e., God’s reference frame ) and m’lematah lemalah (“from down up,” i.e., the human reference frame).  

The first time this commandment was given by God who is above time. From up on high (m’lemalah lematah), He sees all of time at once – past and future.  What apparently is obscured from that point of view is the present. All points on the one-dimensional timeline are equally real and there is no special point that could be called “present.” Furthermore, as Albert Einstein demonstrated in his Special Theory of Relativity, time is relative and the present moment is relative, i.e., it depends on the observer’s vantage point. Observers in different frames of reference will disagree about when is the “present” moment. With many relative “presents,” there is no single absolute present. Looking from outside our physical universe, all relative “presents” look the same.  Consequently, when giving this commandment, God begins with the past and future that He sees from on high, and ends with the present as an afterthought, because it is only real to us – mere mortals who live in the present.  Moses, on the other hand sees the time from another, human, reference frame – m’lematah lemalah (from down up). For him and for us, the only reality is the present moment in which we live. The past is already gone and the future is yet to come. That is why Moses begins with the present, mentioning the lintel (representing the present) first and only later adding the two doorposts – past and future.

It may be time for a new edition of my mezuzah book.

mezuzah

Mezuzah

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