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May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h.

 

This week we learned Avoda Zara 11. These are some highlights.

Avoda Zara 11: Should we touch the mezuzah as we enter and exit?

Many have the practice of putting their hand up to the mezuzah, touching it, and then kissing it as they enter or exit a doorway. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Shu”t Mahadura Kama Siman 58) challenges this practice. Rabbi Akiva Eiger argues that laws mentioned in the Talmud are the ones we should be most careful to fulfill. Rabbi Akiva Eiger states that the Talmud never even hints that we should touch the mezuzah as we walk by. Rama (Yoreh Dei’ah 285:2) writes that some say you should put your hand by the mezuzah as you walk by and declare, “Hashem yishmor tzeiti uvo’ee mei’ata ve’ad olam, “May Hashem protect my exit and coming from now and forever.” Rama’s source was the Maharil, not the Talmud. Rabbi Akiva Eiger argues that the Talmud tells us that it is wrong to touch a parchment. A man who holds, with his bare hands, the parchment of a Torah scroll deserves to be buried naked (Shabbos 14a). Rama (Orach Chaim 147:1) teaches that it is correct to treat all holy writings in this way. You should not hold a parchment with holy writ in your bare hands. The mezuzah might not have a good cover. If everyone were to touch every mezuzah as they walk by, they would be violating, sometimes, the sin of disrespecting holy writings. Sometimes they might touch the mezuzah scroll itself. Rabbi Akiva Eiger argues that you should only touch a mezuzah that is in a strong case, or you can lower your shirtsleeve over your hand and then touch a mezuzah with the cloth in between your fingers and the mezuzah. Shu”t Be’er Moshe (Chelek Bet Siman 98) points out that our Gemara seems to be against Rabbi Akiva Eiger.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger argues that the Gemara never mentions the concept of touching a mezuzah as you walk by. In our Gemara, it is related that Onkelos made a point of touching the mezuzah as he walked by. Onkelos was being taken by Roman soldiers to Rome. He put his hand on the mezuzah and then started to talk with them. He explained to them that a human king sits indoors with his servants outdoors. Hashem, the King of Kings, places Himself outside our doorways and homes in order to protect us. The Romans were inspired and converted to Judaism. The behavior of Onkelos is likely the source for the words of the Maharil and Rama. How, then, can Rabbi Akiva Eiger argue that this law is not mentioned in the Talmud?

Be’er Moshe answers that Rabbi Akiva Eiger felt that the Talmud is merely relating the unusual activities Onkelos performed to try and save his life. The Romans were going to kill Onkelos. Onkelos did something unusual, touching the mezuzah, to spark the interest of the battalion of soldiers who were transporting him. Once they were interested, he was able to communicate with them the love Hashem has for His nation, they converted to our faith, and his life was saved. We do not see in our Gemara that there was a religious obligation for Onkelos to touch the mezuzah. We only can derive from it that touching the mezuzah is an unusual act and Onkelos did unusual things to try and spark interest from the Romans.

To close, our sources teach that it is always good to kiss mitzvah objects to arouse and express a sense of love for Hashem’s commandments. Eliyahu Rabbah (486:4) quotes the holy Shelah (Masechet Pesachim Ner Mitzvah ot 39) who praises those who kiss mitzvah objects. “I have seen elevated people who would kiss their matzot and bitter herbs on Seder night. They would kiss all mitzvah objects at the time of fulfilling mitzvot. They would kiss the sukkah when they would enter and leave during Sukkot, and they would kiss the lulav and etrog when they would fulfill the mitzvah of arba minim. This was all done to increase their affection and love for mitzvot.” It seems from these sources that the practice of touching the mezuzah and kissing the hand or the mezuzah is a holy and precious minhag. (Mesivta)

By Rabbi Zev Reichman

 Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.

 

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