Build Your House

  • Harav Yaakov Medan

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

pesach journal

"Build Your House:"

The Connection between Pesach, Tefillin, Mezuza and Mila


Rav Yaakov Medan


a. Tefillin
The mitzva of tefillin is mentioned in four separate parshiot in the Torah. Two of them, "Kadesh Li" ("Sanctify to Me all firstborn...") and "Ve-haya ki yevi'akha" ("And it shall be when God brings you...") [Shemot 13], are mentioned in the context of the story of the exodus. In fact, the dominant theme of these two parshiot is the need to remember the exodus: "And you shall say to your son on that day, 'For this God did for me when I went out of Egypt'" (ibid. 13:8).
The other two parshiot, "Shema" ("Hear O Israel" - Devarim 6) and "Ve-haya im shamo'a..." ("It shall be if you shall listen..." - Devarim 11), were first mentioned some forty years later, in the plains of Moav, just prior to entry into the Land. Here, the main theme concerns acceptance of the yoke of Heaven and of the mitzvot, within the clear context of entry into the Land and the need to fulfill the mitzvot there. Hence, in short, two parshiot of tefillin deal with the exodus, and the other two with the purpose of God's nation: acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, Torah, mitzvot and Eretz Yisrael.
b. Mezuza
The "twin" of the mitzva of tefillin is that of mezuza. They appear together in the parshiot of "Shema" and "Ve-haya im shamo'a..." and they are similar in content and essence. There are, however, some differences: the mitzva of mezuza is mentioned in these two places only - the parshiot of "purpose." It lacks the aspect of the exodus, where the mitzva of tefillin has already been mentioned twice.
Why does the mitzva of mezuza include only the second half of the context of tefillin? Why does it involve no mention of the exodus? A further question: the name inscribed on the outside of the mezuza, SH-D-Y, is an abbreviation for "Shomer delatot Yisrael" - Guardian of the doors of Israel. Rashi comments, "[The mitzva of] mezuza is an obligation of the resident, for it is HIS GUARDIANSHIP" (Pesachim 4). What is the meaning and nature of this special characteristic of "guarding the doors?"
c. Pesach
The laws associated with the Pesach sacrifice in Egypt hint at the solution to both problems posed by the mitzva of mezuza:
"And they shall take of the blood and shall place it on the two doorposts (mezuzot) and on the lintel." (Shemot 12:7)
"And the blood shall be for you for a sign on the houses where you are, and I shall see the blood and I shall pass over you, and there shall not be among you a plague to destroy." (12:13)
In other words, the Pesach sacrifice and the mezuza are two aspects of the same idea, just as the four parshiot of tefillin are all parts of a whole. Just as two parshiot of tefillin deal with the exodus while the other two deal with God's Kingship and mitzvot, so too the mitzva of mezuza has a dual aspect. During the plague of the firstborn in Egypt, the mitzva of mezuza found expression in the blood spread on the doorposts. Following the giving of the Torah, the parshiot of "Shema" and "Ve-haya im shamo'a..." mandated that we replace the blood on the doorposts with mezuzot. The guarding of the doors now prevents not only the entry of the Angel of Death bringing death to all the firstborns, but also the entry of any forces of impurity opposed to the Kingship of Heaven and the mitzvot into the pure homes of Israel.
d. Berit Mila
If the "twin" of the mitzva of tefillin is that of mezuza, then we can regard the blood of mila (circumcision) as the twin of the blood of the Pesach:
"Why did God see fit to state twice the words, 'You shall live by your blood' (Yechezkel 16:6)? For He said, 'By the merit of the blood of the Pesach and the blood of mila were you redeemed from Egypt, and by merit of both will you be redeemed in the future.'" (Yalkut Shim'oni on Yechezkel, 354)
However, the connection between mila and Pesach is not the same as that between mezuza and Pesach. The connection between mezuza and Pesach is based on the idea that "He will not allow the Angel of Death to come to your houses to cause a plague" - the mezuza guards the doors so that no harm will come to an Israelite house. The connection between mila and Pesach, on the other hand, is based on the idea of "And no one of you will go out of the door of his house until the morning" (Shemot 12:22), or "You shall not take any of the [sacrificial] meat from the house outside" (Shemot 12:46). Whoever removes the meat of the korban Pesach from the house, designated with the sign of the blood on the doorposts, renders it invalid. And anyone who leaves the house designated with the sign of the blood during the time when the sacrifice may be eaten, takes his life in his hands. The Angel of Death is roaming the streets of Egypt.
Likewise, the berit is also a sign. It is a sign which stamps the seed of Israel with the Almighty's holiness, as we bless at a Berit Mila: "And he stamped his descendants with the sign of the holy covenant (berit)." Like the blood of the Pesach which stamps the doorway of the Jewish home so that holy Israelites will not go outside to the Angel of Death, the blood of mila stamps the opening of the Jewish body so that holy Jewish seed will not emerge in vain. Jewish seed will emerge only in holiness - just as the Israelites emerged from their homes in Egypt at the time of the exodus: in holiness, and not to destruction.
The blood of the Pesach therefore contains two aspects: guarding against the entry of the Angel of Death (like the mezuza) and guarding against going out to the Angel of Death (like berit mila). And if tefillin are worn on the body while the mezuza is affixed to the house, likewise the blood of mila is a stamp on the body, and the blood of the Pesach a stamp on the house.
e. Freedom
The Torah refers to two different things as a person's "house."
1) His family - "And he shall atone for himself and for his house" (Vayikra 16). Similarly, in the context of the Pesach sacrifice we read, "A sheep for each household, a sheep per house" (Shemot 12:3).
2) The place where he lives - "And a person who sanctifies his house as holy to God" (Vayikra 27). Similarly, concerning the Pesach we read, "And if the household number too few, then he and his neighbor who is close to his house shall take ..." (Shemot 12:4).
In each "house" a free person is distinguishable from a slave:
"If [the slave's] master shall give him a wife and she bears him sons and daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to his master, and he shall go free by himself." (Shemot 21:4)
A slave does not establish his own family. His master finds him a wife, who is not necessarily someone the slave would have chosen for himself; and his children are not his own - they belong to his master. In the words of Chazal, "A slave has no family lineage." And since his marriage to his partner - the maidservant - does not result in the establishment of a real home, it is not surprising that Chazal state, "The more maidservants, the more immorality" (Avot chap. 2).
At the same time, a slave has no home of his own:
"'And you shall declare freedom in the land for all its inhabitants' (Vayikra 25:10) - Rabbi Yehuda said: [Freedom means] that he may live anywhere that he wishes, and he is under the auspices of someone else." (Rosh Ha-shana 9)
Freedom, on the other hand, means possession of both "houses:"
"And you shall return each man to his possession, and each man shall return to his family." (Vayikra 25:10)
The Israelite eats his Pesach sacrifice with his household (his family) and his neighbors, in his home. The blood of the Pesach is a sign on the houses. It is a sign that Israel will be brought out to freedom; that they have merited "houses" in both senses of the word.
For later generations, the mitzva of the mezuza guards the purity of his home lest the Angel of Death enter, and the mitzva of mila guards the purity of his seed and his family lest his seed eto be destroyed.
f. Children of Avraham
On the day of Pesach three visitors informed Avraham of the impending birth of Yitzchak (Bereishit 18, see Rashi ad loc.). The essence of the nation's forefather was clearly demonstrated in this instance: the doorway of his home, sealed against the Angel of Death, was open wide for visitors from the desert. The opening of his body, sealed with the sign of God's covenant against emergence of impure seed, will now be open to allow for the birth of pure seed - his son, Yitzchak. And since that time the doors of his children, sealed with the blood of the Pesach against the entry of the Angel of Death, are open to visitors, the needy, the hungry: "Anyone who is hungry, let him enter and eat; anyone who is needy, let him enter and partake of the Pesach" (from the Haggada).
The lower opening of the body is sealed with the blood of mila against the emergence of impure seed, but the upper opening - the mouth - opens to recount before the pure seed, the wise son who poses his questions, the story of the exodus.
In both aspects of our "houses" - in our homes and amongst our families - we embark on the Haggada of Pesach.


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