Friday, 9 September 2016

Elul is a Good Time to Check Mezuzot and Tefillin

It is customary to check one's Mezuzot and Tefillin during the month of Elul in preparation for the new year which begins on Rosh HaShanah. Where does this custom come from? Do you check them every year? Is it just superstition? Is it just something to keep one occupied and give the Sofer work to do?

Let us take a look at the Mitzvah (commandment) of Mezuzah and Tefillin. Yes, these are commandments given from G-d to Moshe Rabeinu (Moses our Teacher) and come directly from the Torah. The Kitzur (condensed or shortened) Shulchan Aruch lists the law of Tefillin (Phylacteries) before Mezuzah. The commandment for a male Jew (over the age of 13) to put on Tefillin is a positive commandment that comes from the verse in the Torah: "And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be frontlets between thine eyes" (Deuteronomy 6:8). The laws continue to include what age to begin wearing Tefillin, when and how to wear Tefillin, the problem of not putting on Tefillin for those who are supposed to, how to carry Tefillin and more. Women are exempt from putting on Tefillin as it is a time bound Mitzvah. What to do if your arm is paralyzed is also addressed. 

In the 19th law related to Tefillin it states: "It is proper to have one's Tefillin examined twice in seven years to make certain that they have not become defective through mold or perspiration. If the cases are torn, or if they were soaked in water, the parchment must be examined." Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 7:19 

Immediately after the laws related to Tefillin, come the laws related to Mezuzah. The commandment to put a Mezuzah on the door post of the home of a Jew is also a positive commandment that comes directly from the Torah. It comes from the verse: "And thou shalt write them upon the doorposts of they house and upon they gate" (Deuteronomy 6:9). The laws include where to affix a Mezuzah both in terms of the type of building or dwelling place and in terms of which rooms, which side of the door and where on the door post would be the appropriate position. How to put up the Mezuzah, reciting a blessing when putting it up is also explained. In law 12 it states that "The Mezuzah of a private dwelling should be examined twice in seven years ..." Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 8:12.

From our experience, having moved apartments numerous times, it is important to check your Mezuzot too. If the landlord or landlady tells you it is not necessary, our experience is that it is. In the one apartment where we listened to the landlady not to check the Mezuzah, the apartment was broken into. After sorting out what was stolen, what damaged and what remained in tact, we went to look at the Mezuzot only to discover one of them was totally upside down and completely Pasul which means no longer fit to be used. 

For those who argue "but the Mezuzah is new", again we say, check it before putting it up. The next apartment we moved to we had to put up our own Mezuzot and went out to purchase new ones. It took us 6 months of going to the Sofer, having the Mezuzah checked, which sometimes took a few days or a week to get an answer, finding out that one or more Mezuzot was not fit to use, having to purchase new ones, going to have them checked etc. It took a very long time before we managed to find a full set of Mezuzot that were brand new and fully Kosher, meaning fit to use. 

Is it only our own idea? When talking to some fellow Jews, one shared the following: "we hadn't been so Makpid (strict) on checking for a few years... My husband was diagnosed with the Machala (Hebrew - for the disease which refers to the C-disease. It is best not to state the name of that disease). The following day I took them all and his Tefilin to be checked, Every SINGLE ONE was Pasul! We fixed what we could fix and we replaced what needed to be replaced. And my husband had a true Nes (miracle) and with zero medical explanation was healthy again!"

The Lubavitcher Rebbe often recommended to check one's Mezuzot and Tefillin, especially when problems arise or there is lack of Brachah in a home.  

Having learned just a snippet of what the Torah law states, together with two examples of problems that can occur with problematic Mezuzot or Tefillin, what do you think? Is it just superstition? Is it just man-made? Is it just a way to create work for another? I don't think so! But to answer the last one, every person needs a means to earn an income. For one it is healing others through becoming a doctor, nurse or other healthcare practitioner. For one it is becoming a technician of some sort. Someone might be a store owner or receptionist or secretary. For those who take the time to involve themselves in mastering a section of Torah and sharing that knowledge with others in order to give a service, what greater way is there to earn? After all, G-d tells us that He gives us freedom of choice, however, He offers us the good and the opposite, the path of life and the path to the opposite. It is up to us to decide which way to go. For those who are wise, taking the time to learn what the Torah teaches and to put it into practice will bring one to discover that this is the path that leads to blessing, whether in this world or in the world to come. 

For those who still wonder, why in Elul? In the Hallachot (Torah Law) related to the month of Elul (Kitzur Shulchan  128: 3) states that "men renowned for their good deeds / people who are serious / people of action customarily check their Tefillin and Mezuzot in this month. Similarly, with regard to other Mitzvot, any matter that requires attention should be taken care of." To explain this a little further, Eli Kahn offers an excellent comparison. It is usual to balance ones check book and check one's bank balance on a regular basis and to file taxes once a year. So too with Judaism, in the month of Elul we take the time to make sure our accounting is all in order. One of our spiritual documents is to be found in our Mezuzot and Tefillin.

If anyone would like to learn the laws relating to the month of Elul and preparing for both Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, you are welcome to sign up to learn with Rabbi Eliyahu Shear. He is an excellent, patient and dynamic teacher and teaches both individually and in small groups. Torah learning takes place in person or via Skype with webcam, making it accessible to everyone.

Shabbat Shalom from Yerushalayim

Shoshanah Shear

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