One of those questions I recall being asked in various Jewish educational settings was about what are the elements which identify a home as being Jewish? Inside the home people would often talk about the importance of books, the presence of various Jewish ritual items, and numerous identifiers in the kitchen. From the outside the only mark is usually the mezuzah. When taking my parents on various tours around Long Island, my dad always enjoys playing spot the mezuzah, and therefore identifying neighborhoods as predominantly Jewish or not.
The first time which Jewish homes could be identified from the outside was back in Egypt, as we stood on the brink of the tenth plague. Preparing for this final plague, Moses instructed the people: ‘Go, pick out lambs for your families, and slaughter the Passover offering. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two doorposts’ (Exodus 12:21-22). This blood on the doorpost was intended as an identifier to ensure that God would pass over the Jewish homes, and only kill the Egyptian firstborns.
Did God really need blood on the doorposts to identify the Jewish homes?
It seems unlikely that God actually needed our help. And yet by requiring the application of blood to the doorpost, God found a way for us to be active participants in the Exodus from Egypt. We could not just wait in our homes for God to save us, we had to do something, and that something was to identify our homes as Jewish.
When looking at the Hebrew of the Exodus instructions, it states: ‘el hamashkof v’el shtei hamezuzot’ – ‘to the lintels and to the two doorposts’ (Exodus 12:22). One cannot fail to hear the word mezuzot, the plural form of the word mezuzah. There must therefore be a link between the painting of blood on the doorposts in Egypt, and the placement of the mezuzah on our doorposts today.
What is the significance of the move from blood to parchment?
Both of them serve to identify the home as Jewish to the person on the street (or the Angel of death passing over). Perhaps blood on the doorpost was appropriate on a night when death was in the air. But for us today, parchment, with words of Torah, at the entrance of our homes is the marker. It makes a statement about the importance of words and books, about our Torah and tradition, and about our past and future.
The mezuzah, just like the blood, identifies a home for the outside world. The mezuzah, just like the blood, marks a home as Jewish. But a mezuzah, unlike the blood, makes a statement about the type of home one is entering. According to the words on the parchment; it is a home which bears witness to Gods, a home which values the education of children, and a home which is filled with love for God. These are the values which identify a home as being Jewish.