Parshat Va’etchanan / Shabbat Nachamu
Taking Down Mezuzot
Plus, the Zohar on Mezuzah
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The Torah portion of Va’et’chanan contains 11 mitzvot (by the count of the Sefer HaChinuch), one of which is to affix a mezuzah to one’s doorpost and gates, as the verse says (Deut. 6:9), וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזֻזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיך And you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.
The Zohar (Parshat Va’Etchanan pg. 266a) has this to say about the importance of this mitzvah (from the introduction of the Sefer Chovat Hadar):
The Spirits Flee
“Come and see. When these wicked spirits approach the door of a person, they lift their eyes and they look at the holy Name that is visible on the outside which is the name of Shakkai that is crowned with a crown, the name that rules over everything. They [the spirits] are afraid [of the Name], and they flee and do not approach the doorway of the person.”
The Gate of the Righteous
“Rabbi Abba says how many holy hosts (angels) are present when a person affixes a mezuzah on his doorpost. They all announce and say (Psalms 118:20), ‘This is the gate of G-d; the righteous will enter through it.’”
The Holy Imprints
“The Jewish people are fortunate. It has been made known that they are the sons of the Holy King. We are completely imprinted with Him.
We are imprinted in our bodies – with His holy mark (the brit milah)
We are imprinted in our garments – with the mitzvah wrap – (the talit and tzitzit)
We are imprinted on our heads – with the head Tefillin with the names of our Holy Master
We are imprinted on our arms – with the holy straps (of the Tefillin)
We are imprinted in our shoes – with the shoes of a mitzvah (chalitzah)
We are imprinted outside – with the plantings of the field (the laws of not mixing seeds)
We are imprinted in our houses – with mezuzot on our doorways
In all of these are we imprinted as the children of the Supernal King. Happy is our lot.”
Guarding the Departures and the Returns
“In addition Rabbi Abba said, ‘The verse says, (Tehillim 121:8) “G-d guards my departures and my returns from now onto forever.’
“We understand (the need for guarding) the departures. But what is the meaning of (guarding) the returns? After all, one who returns to his house is not afraid (and does not need guarding).
“But a person who places the imprint of the holy Name on his home (by putting up a mezuzah) with words of the holy Name, will be guarded from everything. When he exits the doorway of his home, he looks up and sees the holy imprint attached to the entrance so that when he leaves, it stays with him and protects him. When he returns, there is an announcement before him, ‘Guard the honor of the [person who has upon him the] image of the Holy King.’ This is all because of the imprint of the holy Name that is on his entrance.”
Protection from 365 Bad Spirits
“Come and see that a bad spirit rests between the doorposts. Woe to the person who does not know how to protect himself from it and does not imprint the holy Supernal Name on the doorways of his home so that it should be found with him.
“There are 365 negative accusing spirits. Each one accuses for one day a year, both above and below. They are found (around a person) both day and night, by day to tempt (a person to sin) and by night to pain him with bad dreams…
“This is why the believers should imprint the holy Name on everything, to cause the negative spirits to tremble. With this they are protected in this world and in the world to come, as it says (Isaiah 60:21), ‘Your nation are all tzadikim; they will inherit the world forever.’”
The rest of this article will focus on the law of leaving (or taking down) one’s mezuzot when moving from one’s home.
Leave the Mezuzah
The Talmud says, (Bava Metziah 102a) “If one rents out a house to another, the responsibility to prepare a mezuzah for it and affix it is upon the renter. And when he leaves, he may not take it in his hand and leave with it; rather, he must leave it there… And there was an incident in which a renter took his mezuzah in his hand and left with it, and as a punishment he eventually buried his wife and two sons.”
Protection from Demons
Tosfot explains (D.H. Lo) that by removing the mezuzah, one causes the demons to enter the home (see Zohar above) and he is considered to be damaging those who will subsequently dwell in that home. Thus the punishment of the renter who took down the mezuzot was appropriate. He showed disregard for the family that moved into the dwelling so his own family was struck with calamity.
Keeping the Shechinah
The Ritva explains that one must leave the mezuzah so that one is not causing the Shechinah (Diving Presence) to depart from the home.
Even if Needed
The Ritva writes (quoted in the Shita Mekubetzet) that one may not remove the mezuzah even if he needs it for his next home.
It is noteworthy that the Birkei Yosef quotes the Ritva differently as saying that one may remove a mezuzah if he plans to affix it to another door (i.e., in their new home).
In practice we rule like the first opinion and one may not remove a mezuzah from a home that he is leaving even if he plans to affix it somewhere else.
If, however, one has no other mezuzah, he may rely on the permissive opinions and remove the mezuzah when leaving and place it on his new residence (Birkei Yosef cited in Pit’chei Teshuvah 291:7).
Switching to a Lower Quality
The Da’at Kedoshim (Y.D. 291) rules that one may switch his “fancy,” i.e., expensive, mezuzot for simple (but kosher) ones when leaving his residence. There is a question as to whether or not one should recite a blessing when making this switch. Therefore, the switch should be made without reciting a blessing (as the rule is that one should not make a blessing if there is a doubt.
It is possible, he adds, that the new tenant is responsible to pay the previous one for the value of the mezuzah. Accordingly, the Rama rules (Y.D. 291:2) that one leaving one’s mezuzah for the next occupant may demand payment for the mezuzah. The Chovat HaDar (by Yaakov Yeshaya Blau, Jerusalem 1976, chapter 1 note 51) writes that if one left a fancy mezuzah, one may only ask for the value of a simple one.
If the new occupant refuses to pay, one may not force him. Even in such a case, he must leave the mezuzah behind (Bait Yosef in the name of Rabbeinu Mano’ach).
If, when renting the property out, the landlord stipulated to his (Jewish) tenant that it is the tenant’s responsibility to pay for the mezuzah, the payment can be demanded (Chovat HaDor ibid).
Planning to Destroy
If one leaves a house because he plans to knock it down, he may (should) remove the mezuzot even if the house will remain standing for some time before being torn down (Da’at Kedoshim 291).
The New Tenant’s Mezuzot
Some say that the occupant leaving a residence may not remove the mezuzot even if the new tenant is ready to affix his own, as the sages made a blanket rule prohibiting the removal of mezuzot when leaving a residence (Birkei Yosef quoted in ibid). Certainly the new tenant may remove the mezuzot left behind, replace them with his own and give the mezuzot back to their owner (Chovat HaDor, note 53).
If the new tenant has his own mezuzot that he is ready to put up and if he needs the mezuzah for his new residence, he may remove the mezuzot (ibid).
Renting from/to a Non-Jew
One who is leaving from a property that he rented from a non-Jew may remove the mezuzah when he leaves (Bava Metziah ibid). Similarly, one who is planning to rent a property to a gentile may take the mezuzot before doing so.
Rabbeiny Yonatan explains that in the above cases, one should remove the mezuzot so that the gentile not mistreat them and so that people do not mistakenly think that it is still a Jewish house.
May Hashem Protect and Guard all of Israel and the Jewish People!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!