Day 073: Seriously Geeking Out on Hebrew (Deuteronomy 8-10)

10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
    “and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
    and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
    nor shall there be any after me.
Isaiah 43:10

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the mezuzah–the scroll of the shema that is rolled up and placed in a box on the doorpost of every Jewish home. And if there’s anyone who just wants to geek out a little on Hebrew and Jewish culture, here’s another fun fact:

The first line of the scroll is Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Shema Israel, adonai elihenu, adonai echad.) You can see this going from right to left (because Hebrew reads from right to left).

This shema scroll has two letters that are disproportionately larger than the others: the ayin of the first word, shema, and the dalet of the last word, echad. (I circled them in red on the image above). I thought at first that this might have just been a mistake on the part of the scribe, but, oh, no. If you watched these guys work, you would know that they don’t make mistakes. If they do, the parchment and the pen are both destroyed. It turns out that EVERY Shema scroll has these two letters larger.

So how come?

Here’s what I found on another great Jewish learning site ( One explanation is that it makes sure no one makes pronunciation errors that would change the entire meaning of the prayer:

If the word shema, שמע, would be read with an aleph—which sounds very similar to the ayin—the meaning of the word would change from “hear” to “maybe,” changing a firm declaration of belief into an expression of doubt.

In other words, the meaning would change from “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God” to “Maybe, O Israel…”

Which is not what you are going for.

The article goes on:

Similarly, if the ד (dalet) of the word echad, אחד, would be mistaken for a ר (reish)—as the two look almost identical—then echad (“one”) would be read acher (“other”). This would make our belief in one God look like a belief in two gods.

Again, the scribes wanted two make certain no poor kid accidentally read “Maybe, O Israel, the Lord our God is other” on his bar mitzvah.

That would be bad.

There is yet another reason given for emphasizing these two letters. Together, these two letters together spell עד (eid), the Hebrew word for “witness.” When we recite the Shema, we attest to His primacy. This reflects the words of Isaiah 43:10:

 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
    “and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
    and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
    nor shall there be any after me.

I’m in awe of the reverence the Jewish people have for the Torah. And beloved, as you continue this Bible Recap journey this year, the Lord is growing you in your reverence for His word. Stay with it!

Day 072: Taking God at His Word: The Mezuzah (Deuteronomy 5-7)

4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

When my mother in law came back from Israel, she brought me a mezuzah, the box Tara-Leigh was talking about today. I have it nailed to the doorpost of my office. When you go to Israel, you’ll see them on the doorpost of every building. Even in our hotel, there was one mounted at the entrance to every hotel room.

Mezuzahs differ widely in style, but most mezuzahs have the Hebrew characters shin, daleth, and yodh, or at least the shin (ש)These are the consonants in the name Shaddai, or God Almighty (Remember that character shin. In the next few months, Tara Leigh is going to talk about something regarding that character and the topography of the city of Jerusalem that will blow you away!!)

I saw this everywhere we went in Israel: religious Jews would touch the Shin of the mezuzah as they entered a building, then touch their fingers to their lips and speak a prayer of thanks.

You’ll also notice that it is mounted at an angle on the doorpost. I promise that this isn’t because I don’t know how to use a level. The tradition in Israel is to mount the mezuzah so the blessing will pour into the room. I’ve been told that a traditional gift for a Jewish couple who is expecting is a nursery mezuzah that they mount on the doorpost of their baby room.

Inside is a rolled up scroll of the Shema itself. These are the prayers from Dt. 6 and other passages which religious Jews pray in the morning and evening. I bought this scroll in the Jewish quarter of the old city in Jerusalem. It is on lamb skin parchment and blessed as kosher.

The regulations and requirements of what makes a mezuzah scroll kosher are incredibly complex. You can read about them in this article, The Laws of a Kosher Mezuzah, if you want to take a deep dive. But just to give you a frame of reference, this relatively short article contains fifty two citations of Torah law, detailing everything from how high to place the mezuzah on your doorpost to how much of a margin to leave on the scroll.

I love ritual and tradition. I love how careful religious Jews are to adhere to the letter of the Law. At the same time, I am very aware of how ritual and tradition can replace genuine devotion. For all of us, it is a wonderful thing to cover our walls with Scripture. But for all the commandments of the Shema concerning writing the law on your doorposts and binding it on your hand and your forehead, the most crucial place for God’s command is right there in Deuteronomy 6:6:

6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 
%d bloggers like this: