The front and the back

I once heard a story of a person who returned a couch he had bought because the back part of it did not have the same quality and finishing as the front. The vendor could not believe what the buyer was saying. –“Nobody sees the back part of a couch!”

–“Maybe”, answered the buyer. –“But to me the front and the back are equally important.

There is a holy item in our tradition that teaches that the front and the back are equally important. The mezuzah.

When we affix a mezuzah on our doors (a mezuzah must be affixed to the entrance of every home and to the door of every living room of a house, excluding storerooms, stables, and bathrooms) we should pay attention to the front and the back part of the parchment.

The front is the part that includes the Shema, V’ahabta and Vehaya em Shamoa (the Shema and its two first paragraphs, Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21) where we are commanded to affix a mezuzah, “And ye shall write them (the words of God) upon the mezuzot of thy house and in thy gates”.

The back part of the parchment includes two inscriptions. One on the top, the name of God שַדּי (“Almighty,” but also the initial letters of שוֹמֵר דְּלָתוֹת יִשְָׂראֵל “Guardian of the doors of Israel”).

And another on the bottom where there is an enigmatic inscription, כוזו במוכסז כוזו. In Hebrew this combination of letters does not make sense.

The secret may be found by looking at the letters in the order of the Alef-Beit from the source phrase. For example, the letter ב is next to the letter א. The letter ל is next to the letter כ.

So in this case, the unadulterated, source phrase is: יהוה אלהינו יהוה.

The transformation of that phrase is: כוזו במוכסז כוזו.

We know of many instances when we were forbidden to fulfill commandments (by Roman or Greek persecution for example). Putting up mezuzot was prohibited under Roman rule – as indicated by passages in the Mishna.

Therefore, a simple conclusion can be drawn: during the time that Jews were unable to keep the mitzvah, they inscribed on their doorposts the short code כוזו במוכסז כוזו to remind themselves of the mitzvah that was absent. Once the decree prohibiting the mitzvah was revoked, that inscription was preserved and incorporated into the mitzvah itself.  Maybe…

When we put up the mezuzah we roll it in a way that the Shema and its paragraphs go in the inside and the back part of the parchment goes outside and we can see the letters of the name of God שַדּי

In this case, maybe, the back is more important than the front…

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin

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