Individually and as a country we need to believe in the mezuzah.
The commandment to bind God's words to the doorposts of our houses is biblical, but as with so many biblical laws, the details of how exactly to do it are omitted. How to bind them is never explained in the Torah. This produced a dispute in the 11th century about how to affix the mezuzah (which is the box with the commandment inside it). Rashi thought the mezuzah case should be nailed up horizontally and his nephew thought it should be nailed up vertically. The compromise, which was finally attributed to Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, author of the Arba'ah Turim in the 12th century (see Menachot 33a) was the ruling that the mezuzah had to be inclined on an angle pointing into the house midway between horizontal and vertical.
The mezuzah represents the spirit of compromise, but compromise is not a tactic; it is a virtue that depends upon humility. Our greatest leader was Moses, and the highest praise for Moses in the Torah was not that he was a powerful man but that that he was a humble man. Humility and compromise are the deepest lessons of the slanted mezuzah, and they are surely the deepest virtues we need now to bring America together again and to bring our lives together again. I wish I could hang a mezuzah on the doors of Congress.
We can and must try to integrate the lessons of the mezuzah into our own personal spiritual journeys. How often are our personal problems the result of stubbornly wanting things our way no matter the cost? How many times could we bring silly family squabbles to an end if the spirit of compromise informed us and our families. Perhaps that is why we are commanded to kiss the mezuzah before we enter our home and not as we leave it. We are thus taught to have an act of compromise precede us into the place where it is needed most.
Individually and as a country we need to believe in ki karov hu.
In Exodus 13:17-18 we read, "And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them through the land of the Philistines, even though it was nearer." (ki karov hu).
In selecting the route of the Exodus, God specifically chose not to take the shortest way to Canaan, but the long way around. God feared that the short way would bring the danger of war, and war would cause fear, and fear would cause the people to run back to Egyptian slavery.
I would, however, translate ki karov hu not as "even though it was nearer" but rather as "because it was close." God took the people the long way around not only as a tactic to avoid war. God chose it precisely because it was the long way around. God knew that shortcuts never work. God knew that simple external solutions never work. God knew that the point of the Exodus was not getting the people out of Egypt but getting Egypt out of the people and that internal Exodus would take time and patience and wisdom. Those are exactly the virtues we need now to save our lives and to save America. We need political patience for America to go the long way around to making America truly the promised land for all Americans.
Now we must heal from recent hurricanes. They were disasters that happened over a few days but which will require rebuilding for several years. The storms will take America the long way around. Anton Chekhov wrote, "It seemed that the next minute they would discover a solution. Yet it was clear to both of them that the end was still far, far off and that the hardest and most complicated part was only just beginning." The hardest and most complicated part of making America whole again is just beginning.
We read today the story of Abraham's binding of his son Isaac. The great Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel was so moved by this biblical story when he first heard it and understood it as a boy that he cried. His father asked him why he was crying and he answered, "I am worried that the angel who stopped Abraham from killing Isaac would be too late in calling to him from Heaven." Heschel's father calmed his son and said to him, "Don't worry my son, angels are never too late. That is the way with angels, but people can be too late. That is the way with people."
Let us pray that we are not too late for each other.
Let us pray that we are not too late for America.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)(c) 2017 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.