Another mother poem: Change
A rabbi by any other name...


This morning, while our son was lying on his back on a quilt on the floor of his nursery practicing his kicking, I went out to the garage to get a hammer. In tidying his things, I had unearthed the mezuzah which my brother Brad gave to us on the day of his naming ceremony, and I wanted to affix it on the doorpost of the nursery.

Every mezuzah contains the first part of the Shema: Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21. (You can read the text in Hebrew and English here.) This particular mezuzah is small, brightly-colored, and features illustrations of sports gear: balls of various kinds, a tennis racket, etc. It also bears the letter ש (shin), short for Shaddai, the divine name which can be interpreted to refer either to mountains or to breasts, as you may remember from the commentary to the first mother poem I posted back in December. Some interpret the mezuzah as a sign of divine protection. Others see it as a mindfulness practice, a reminder to be conscious of divinity everywhere we go.

There are two basic halakhic perspectives on how a mezuzah should be affixed. Rashi argued that it ought to be affixed vertically; his grandson Rabbeinu Tam argued in favor of affixing it horizontally. The accepted custom is to compromise and affix the mezuzah diagonally -- and since it's customary for the tilt of the mezuzah to point into the room, I like to think of it as signifying that divine presence is perennially entering.

It's hung at the traditional height, in the upper third of the doorframe -- far too high for our son to reach. I imagine I'll lift him in my arms so he can see it and touch it, someday when he's old enough. (Today I held him in my arms and tried to show it to him, but he didn't seem all that interested.) I can tell him how his Uncle Brad brought it here from Texas one week after he was born, and how I hung it on a beautiful sunny day when the snow was melting and the air was beginning to feel like spring.

I like that our tradition tells us to sanctify our doorways: liminal spaces between one room and another, one place and another, one state of being and another. I like that every time I enter our son's room, I'll have an opportunity to remember that it's a holy place: even when he's fussing, even when I'm entering sleepily in the middle of the night to feed him yet again. And because the Shema speaks about the fundamental unity at the heart of all things, the mezuzah also reminds me that all of the divisions I encounter -- between my old life and my new one, between the familiar and the foreign, even between our son and me -- are ultimately illusory. Deep down, everything is part of God. Even the diaper pail.