January 29, 2004
Door to Holiness
Parshat Bo (Exodus 10:1 - 13:16)
So what's with the blood on the doors?
In this week's Torah portion of Bo, we learn of the final steps leading up to the liberation of Israel from slavery in ancient Egypt. On that fateful night, God dealt the final blow to the Egyptians by smiting the firstborn of each of their households while sparing the firstborn of the Israelite households -- precipitating total Egyptian surrender.
"They [the Israelites] shall take some of its blood [of the Paschal sacrifice] and place it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses.... When I see the blood I shall pass over you; there shall not be a plague of destruction upon you when I strike in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 12:7-13).
A simple question: Did God really need a sign on the door in order to know which home was inhabited by Israelites and which not?
Well, the suggestion goes, perhaps God didn't need any extra demarcation, but you know, with it being such a busy night and all, perhaps the Malach Hamavet (Angel of Death) needed that extra marker while making his sweep through the neighborhood.
But let's be real about this. This is not some scene out of a Hollywood movie where the wrong guy is taken out at the wrong time. Surely the real Angel of Death doesn't use painted street addresses to locate his mark.
So again, what's with the placing of the sacrificial blood on the door? And for that matter, why the door? Why not the window, the stoop or the rooftop?
Let us take a moment here to analyze the concept -- the symbolism -- of a door. The door creates privacy, in addition to providing shelter and protection. The door is what separates the public person from the private person, the external self from the internal self. In the privacy of one's home is where all of the facades and inhibitions tend to fall away, allowing the best (and sometimes the worst) of what a person has to offer to come to the surface.
By way of example, some people can be very patient on the outside -- all smiles and cheerful when in public, and yet, when they come home, it's moody-broody time; no patience for the kids, no tolerance for the spouse, not a smile anywhere in sight. On the other hand, some people can be very quiet, withdrawn, reserved and uptight when in public, but barrels of fun and laughter when within the confines of their own homes. The door is where that transition -- from the superficial "you" to the real "you" -- tends to take place.
Our Judaism asks of us: What sort of doors do you have? What transpires on the inside of those doors? Is there a spirit of sanctity and holiness on the other side of that threshold? Are there Jewish books on the shelves? Are there kosher products in the cupboard and in the fridge? Are the Shabbat and Jewish holidays celebrated therein with joy, meaning and depth? Are words of Torah shared? Are prayers recited? Only you and the Almighty truly know the answers to those questions.
There is a great deal of discussion about how Jews ought not shy away from behaving as Jews on the outside (as well there should be), but sometimes it behooves us to address the issue of not being lax with our Yiddishkayt on the inside -- where it really counts.
The Talmud tells us that "there was a great custom in Jerusalem" that whenever a family sat down to a meal, they would tack a cloth on to the door of their home. This served as a sign to all strangers and passersby that it was mealtime and that anyone who was hungry or so desired was welcome to walk on in and partake with them.
What is posted on our proverbial doors? Do we have a symbolic "welcome mat" at the door, or is it more like a "do not disturb" sign? Do we welcome the opportunity to be hospitable and benevolent to those in need of comfort, friendship or sustenance? Or do we (figuratively speaking) slam those doors in the faces of rabbis or needy individuals who seek entry to the sincerity of our hearts?
One of the most beautiful and enduring of all biblical precepts is that of the mezuzah, which is posted on the right doorpost of a Jewish home. The mezuzah testifies that this home is truly a Jewish home; a home where holiness, modesty, decency and goodness are a way of life -- even (if not especially) behind closed doors. The mezuzah represents God's presence in the home as well as His protection over all who reside therein. It is not merely a nice Jewish ornament. Indeed, if we only appreciate the mezuzah for its facade -- its external appearance -- rather than its internal spiritual meaning and we're not too overly concerned about whether the scroll contained therein has been scribed in accordance with the Torah's instructions in that regard, then we're missing what it is that a Jewish door is all about. A Jewish door is where the facade is supposed to end and where truth and authenticity are supposed to begin. It's not what the mezuzah case looks like that's most important; it's what's inside that really matters. What is the true essence of the matter?
So, what was the significance of the Israelites' marking their doorposts with the blood of the Passover sacrifice? It was not an address or a door marker. It was their testimony that they were truly ready to leave Egypt. They were devoted -- inside and out -- to God and to Moses, indeed to the point of self-sacrifice. And that was why their homes were truly untouchable by the Angel of Death. For the blood on the doorpost was there -- not for God's benefit or for His messenger's benefit -- but for the benefit of the Israelites who finally understood what it was that separates Jew from Egyptian. It's all in the door.