Jews have wandered the world for thousands of years living as guests amongst the many peoples of the world. Throughout that time we’ve followed our own customs internally and privately: they usually have no impact on the lives of those around.
One of the customs we have is to mark our homes with a sign on the doorpost. That is the “mezuzah”. In fact, with global Jew hatred running as high as it does, you’d think we’d have to be mad to mark our homes visually on the outside but on the whole, we do.
Here is a good explanation of what a mezuzah is:
And you shall write [the words that I command you today] on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. -Deuteronomy 6:9, 11:19
On the doorposts of traditional Jewish homes (and many not-so-traditional homes!), you will find a small case like the one pictured at left. This case is commonly known as a mezuzah (Heb.: doorpost), because it is placed upon the doorposts of the house. The mezuzah is not, as some suppose, a good-luck charm, nor does it have any connection with the lamb’s blood placed on the doorposts in Egypt. Rather, it is a constant reminder of G-d‘s presence and G-d’s mitzvot.
The mitzvah to place mezuzot on the doorposts of our houses is derived from Deut. 6:4-9, a passage commonly known as the Shema (Heb: Hear, from the first word of the passage). In that passage, G-d commands us to keep His words constantly in our minds and in our hearts by (among other things) writing them on the doorposts of our house. The words of the Shema are written on a tiny scroll of parchment, along with the words of a companion passage, Deut. 11:13-21. On the back of the scroll, a name of G-d is written. The scroll is then rolled up and placed in the case, so that the first letter of the Name (the letter Shin) is visible (or, more commonly, the letter Shin is written on the outside of the case).
So that’s what we do on our homes, privately and individually. What do we do when we return to run our own country for the first time in millennia?
We put a giant mezuzah on the door!
This is what sits at the entrance to the immigration hall at Ben Gurion airport (it’s about 2m in length):
This custom doesn’t mean non Jews can’t live or visit here.
It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) offend anyone who passes by it.
It doesn’t ask others to obey the laws we follow ourselves.
It doesn’t require anyone to bow down to our G-d.
It’s just for us Jews and it gives us a very special feeling when we walk by and see it. In fact, many Jews will stop, touch it and then kiss their hand. But we don’t ask anyone else to even notice it.
But it is another tiny facet of what it means for us to have our home, Israel, the world’s only Jewish state.
Update: And here’s another giant mezuzah, this time at the entrance to the Kotel (Western Wall) from my twitter friend Jonathan: