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Sarah conceived and bore a son unto Avraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which Hashem had spoken with him (Bereishis 21:2).
The Gemara (Menachos 32b) tells us that we have an oral teaching from Hashem dating back to the giving of the Torah by Moshe at har Sinai that a mezuzah requires sirtut. This means that before a scribe writes the text of a mezuzah he must etch straight lines into the parchment to serve as his guide. It is our custom to do this in tefillin, Sifrei Torah, and other holy scrolls as well. Some of the commentators explain that the main teaching of sirtut was transmitted specifically in connection with mezuzah. The requirement of sirtut on other holy scrolls such as tefillin, sifrei Torah, megillah and get, are derived from mezuzah.
The main reason for sirtut is to ensure that the text will be written in straight and not curved lines. This adds to the beauty of the scroll. However, some of the commentators offer additional symbolic significance for sirtut.
The Kedushas Haleivie explains the sirtut of the mezuzah corresponds to the lines in the folds of the palm and forehead. The commentators tell us that hidden in the lines of one’s palm and forehead are his desires and mazel. This certainly does not mean that everything that happens in life is predetermined. The ultimate destiny of one’s life in up to the person himself and can change for the better or worse depending on how he exercises his free will. Rather it means that in the lines of the palm and forehead one can detect a person’s predispositions.
In the sefer Pishchei Sh’arim, Rav Aryeh Schechter continues to explain that the lines on a mezuzah similarly correspond to Hashem’s will and plan for each individual and the world in general. When we pass through the doorway and put our palm on the mezuzah we symbolically express that it is our wish that our will conform to the will of Hashem. We match up the sirtut of our palm with the sirtut of Hashem.
Let us suggest another hint as to why we have sirtut in a mezuzah.
In this week’s parsha we learn how the angel told Avraham and Sara that in a year from now a child would be born to them. Rashi writes that the angel etched a line into the wall at the position where the sun would shine the day a child would be born to them (Bereishis 21:2).
The commentators explain that because the earth spins on its axis and travels around the sun, the exact direction of the sun’s ray’s change every day. The angel’s mark was etched in a way so that it would only fully reflect the rays of the sun one day a year. It would be on that day in which Yitzchak would be born. The obvious question is why the need for the mark? Let the angel just tell them the calendar day. Perhaps the answer is that a mark on the wall would serve as a constant reminder and inspiration for the day that Yitzchak would be born.
Avraham and Sarah were the first couple to set up a Jewish home. Their home was open to all. It was a paradigm of every good quality a Jewish home should possess. A year later when the sun shone on that precise mark a miracle occurred. A child was born to Avraham and Sara in their old age. The posuk records Sarah’s reaction, “Sarah said, Hashem has made laughter for me; whoever hears will laugh for me” (Bereishis 21:6). Rashi explains that along with the miracle that occurred to Sarah, many other couples were blessed with children. Many were healed from sickness and many prayers were answered. Their home became the center of great happiness and rejoicing for the entire world. Their home was a symbol of faith. One who entered their home witnessed the reward a person receives for putting his faith in Hashem.
The Torah obligates us to place a mezuzah on our doorpost. The text of the mezuzah contains the fundamental principles of our faith and obligations to Hashem. It serves as a reminder and a protection. We may suggest that the sirtut in the mezuzah serves as a symbol for that line that the angel etched in the wall of the first Jewish home. When we gaze at the mezuzah hanging on the doorpost we are reminded of how Hashem fulfilled his promise by giving Avraham and Sarah a child. We remember the great joy and celebration that took place in their home on the day the sun shone on the mark etched by the angel. We are inspired to follow in their ways and yearn for the day when we may also say “Hashem has made laughter for me; whoever hears will laugh for me.”
The Chasam Sofer notes that there seems to be a contradiction between the posuk and the Midrash quoted by Rashi. On the one hand the angel told Avraham that he will return to him next year at this exact day and time. The date was Pesach. Exactly one year later on this day would also be Pesach. On the other hand the angel made a mark on the wall to indicate where the sun would shine. The simple understanding is that the angel made a mark where the rays of the sun were shining on that day and said that when the sun returns and shines there again, he will return and Yitzchak will be born. The problem is that these two times are not the same. The day the sun would return is dependent on the solar year which is 365 days, whereas next Pesach is dependent on the Jewish lunar year which is 354 days. There is an eleven day difference. The Chasam Sofer answers that we have no choice but to assume that the mark that the angel made was eleven marks distant from where the sun shone that day. In other words, every day the sun casts its rays slightly higher or lower than the previous day. Thus the mark of eleven days from now would be eleven marks higher or lower on the wall.
It is noteworthy that with regard to the posuk in the beginning of the parsha, where Hashem asks why Sarah laughed (Bereishis 18:14), modern day commentators have a hint to the coming of Moshiach. If we skip every fifth letter starting with the mem of the word la’mo’aid we get the word Moshiach. Indeed this posuk certainly captures with precision the theme of the coming of Moshiach. “Is anything beyond Hashem? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time there will be life …”
We may further note that in the previous posukim
when the angel informs Avraham that he will return, the angel repeats the word
“I will return, return to you …” (Bereishis 18:10). We simply translate this repetition to indicate the certainty of his return. Homiletically, we may suggest that the double mention of the word return refers to two events. The first is the return of the angel at the time of the birth of Yitzchak. The second is the coming of moshiach alluded to in statement of Hashem in the posukim that follow.
According to letter of the law there is no specific number of lines that one must use to write a mezuzah on. However, it is customary to write a mezuzah on exactly twenty two lines. In other words there are twenty two lines of sirtut. The commentators explain that they correspond to the twenty two letters of the aleph beis.
We may suggest that twenty two lines of sirtut also correspond to the double return found in the posuk. The line etched by the angel was eleven imaginary lines above where the rays of the sun shone that day. When we allude to the coming of Moshiach that will occur in some following year as hinted by the second “return” in the posuk, we add another eleven lines for a total of twenty two.
When we look at the mezuzah we are not just inspired by the past fulfillment of Hashem’s promise to Avraham and Sarah in their home, but also to Hashem’s promise for the future of our home. “Is anything beyond Hashem? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time there will be life …”
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2003