The Mezuzah

Referring to the words of the Sh’ma, the Torah says, And you shall write them on the doorposts of your homes and on your gates. As we approached the opening of Nehar Shalom, I knew that we should have a special mezuzah pointing the way into our communal home. During that summer of preparation in 2004, I spoke with a friend and former student, Aviel Barclay, who is now the first traditionally trained female Torah scribe, or soferet. I asked her if she would prepare the k’laf, the parchment on which is written the Sh’ma and the first two paragraphs that follow it in prayer. I asked her to make a large k’laf because I thought we should have a large mezuzah for the shtibl. At that time we did not yet have the bayit, the “house” or container in which the parchment rests.

Some time later, I went to my hometown of Winthrop, MA, on the day that we were to receive our reading table, so generously donated by the good people of Congregation Tifereth Abraham, the “little shul” of my earliest years. My good friend, Leon Schiff, told me to look around and see if there was anything else we could use. In a drawer, I found a large and beautiful old hand-carved mezuzah case, with ivory around the opening through which the parchment is seen. I asked if it would be possible to have this unique mezuzah, knowing immediately that it would be the perfect bayit to house the k’laf that Aviel would make.

Leon smiled, and then told the story of our new mezuzah. It had been removed from the front door of the shul in 1935. Someone walking by had put a lit cigarette through the ivory-framed opening and burned the k’laf. That original parchment, no longer kosher for its intended use, now resides in our Aron Hakodesh, the Holy Ark in which the Torah scrolls are kept. Its beautiful script tells of a scribe who long ago put quill and ink to parchment in loving response to the commandment in the very words he wrote. On that part of the rolled up k’laf which was once visible through the opening of the mezuzah, directly above God’s holy name Shaddai, a burn seared through the parchment tells of a passerby of hateful heart who long ago put a cigarette to parchment.

There is a new parchment now in the mezuzuah, the one made by Aviel. Bright beautiful letters that spell Shaddai are again visible through the ivory-framed opening. The bayit brings with it to the doorpost of our shtibl all the warmth and simple beauty of a traditional old shul in Winthrop, MA. The k’laf within sings of a new path and of new possibility, old and new embracing, two paths that merge, together pointing the way forward into Nehar Shalom.

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