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Parshat Eikev (5772)

This week’s Torah portion contains the second paragraph of the ‘Shema Yisroel’ prayer that is the ‘motto’ of Judaism. (11: 13-21)

Here is found the commandment of Mezuza (11:20) (small scroll affixed to every Jewish door) and is one of the two paragraphs written therein.

At first glance however, it is not so clear why this commandment or ANY commandments are in the Torah.

Judaism is THE ‘monotheistic’ religion - shouldn’t it be more spiritual and concerned with G-d? Why all these physical commandments? No other religion has so many of them, especially not the other ‘monotheistic ones’. I’ve even had people here in Israel angrily tell me that the commandments are ‘idolatry’! Religion, they claim, must be spiritual and amorphous.

But they are wrong.

Here is a story I just read from my friend Yerachmiel Tilles at Ascent of Safed. (Story #767) that might help to explain.

When Perla Cohen was a student of economy at the University of Lyon, France she joined one of the classes that the original local representative of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Lyon, Rabbi Shmuel Gurewich, held on the campus once a week for several other girl students.

The classes were interesting because, together with being very intellectual and at times even mystical, they stressed the foremost importance of actually doing the physical commandments. This was in direct contradiction to the spirit of the university and of France in general where religion and especially religious practice was shunned as backwards and semi-barbaric.

Since her family lived out of town, she was frequently invited to stay for Shabbat in the house of the Gurewich family and over a period of time she developed a strong and close relationship with Mrs. Gurewich. But she was in no hurry to make a firm commitment to the path of Torah and Mitzvot (commandments), despite the numerous study sessions in which she participated.

But there were a few ideas of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that made an impression and began to have an effect. One was how the Hebrew word for Commandment means ‘connection’ because when a Jew does a commandment it actually connects the entire creation with the Creator and makes the world a better place.

Another interesting idea she heard was that if a person tries to encourage other Jews to observe the commandments even if apparently he does not succeed there is ALWAYS a good result. Sometimes just the fact that a non-observant Jew SEES a commandment, can make a positive impression.

Little by little this caused her to totally change her attitude toward observant Judaism in general and her observing Judaism specifically. At first she began keeping the Shabbat and eating only kosher foods because those things could be done quietly and unnoticed by others.

Finally she announced that she was ready to try to do one positive commandment and, responding to the explicit request of Mrs. Gurewich, she agreed to affix a mezuzah at the entrance to her studio apartment.

However, after a few weeks some girlfriends visited her and, noticing the box on her door with the Jewish letter (shin) on it, and finding what was inside of it and what it was all about, warned that a Jewish student living alone in a French town, announcing to everybody by means of a mezuzah on her doorpost that she is Jewish, is taking a big risk in these days.

These frightening warnings had their effect on her and one day she decided that she couldn’t rely on miracles any longer. She removed the Mezuza and took a deep breath of relief; the “security risk" was gone from the entrance to her apartment. She had been told that the Mezuza provided protection to the house and to all those in it but now she wouldn’t need protection; she had ‘molded’, unnoticed, into her surrounding.

About two weeks later she found a note from the post office on her front door. The note stated that a package had arrived for her and since she had not been at home it had been delivered to one Mr. Londert who lived on the floor above her Apt 5b.

She went upstairs, knocked on the door, and the neighbor, a man in his seventies opened. She introduced herself, showed the postal message and he brought the package. He explained that he had just been passing by in the staircase and when he saw that the postman did not find her at home, he agreed to take the parcel for her. He handed her the package, and when she thanked him, said good bye and was about to leave, he suddenly replied 'Shalom'.

She turned and asked him in a surprised tone: "Are you Jewish?"

"Yes", answered the neighbor, "and I'd like to ask you something: why did you take down the mezuzah on your front door two weeks ago?"

When she started to stutter and tried to explain to him the 'security risk', he said that he wanted to tell her something.

"I am a Jewish man who lost my entire family in the holocaust -- my wife and my children. Since then I have been running away from my Jewish religion as much as possible. No Yom Kippur, no kosher food and no observance of any commandment. I looked for a place to live, situated as far away as possible from Jews in order not to see their faces.

“About a month ago the elevator was out of order, and on that day I had to climb the staircase by foot. When I came to the first floor, I suddenly saw a door with a mezuzah fixed to the doorpost.

“The last time I saw a mezuzah was 30 years ago, and the sight suddenly took me back to the past. Memories began to flood my mind. I stood there for half an hour, touching the mezuzah and unable to control my tears.

“Since that day I stopped using the elevator. Every day I descend and ascend the staircase to my apartment by foot so that I may stand in front of the mezuzah for a few moments, touch it and delve into my thoughts. I felt so strongly that this is the only thing that connects me to Judaism, to my past. And although I don’t know you, I had great respect for you for your bravery and power of belief.

“You know, people have hated us Jews for thousands of years, since Abraham and ….. well, I gave in. I simply wanted to run away and not be different. I molded into my surrounding.

“But your Mezuza gave me a message; that G-d is good, He wants a good world and we must be brave in order to show this. Just like Abraham was.

“Therefore, I was so shocked and disappointed when two weeks later I no longer found my mezuzah and my Judaism to which I have so longed to return, with a full heart….

That day, two Jewish souls joined the Chassidic community in Rabbi Gurewich's house in Lyon. The first was Perla Cohen, who later established a magnificent Chassidic home together with her husband, another young returnee to traditional Judaism (they are now happy grandparents - ed.).

The second was Mr. Avraham Londert, a Jewish man aged 70, who put a Mezuza on his door as well and began a new brave and happy life in the merit of the mezuzah he saw (just as the Rebbe said).

This answers our questions. The physical commandments come to show us that G-d, the Creator of all being, CARES about this physical world and wants US to bring this absolute good into ACTION.

This is the ABSOLUTE good which will ultimately be brought to all mankind by the Moshiach that Judaism has been longing and praying for since it’s inception.

This is the ONLY antidote to the mistaken values of the previous generation when the Culture and Intellectualism of Nazism and the Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood of Communism brought death and destruction to hundreds of millions of human beings for no reason!

The Mezuza is the best example; In Hebrew it hints at ‘Zuz Maves’ (push away death).

This one small commandment brings life, light and safety to our lives, even to our physical homes and eventually to the entire world around us.

But bringing Moshiach depends solely on us. As we saw in our story; one good deed could be enough to tilt the scales and bring ….

Moshiach NOW!

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