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Symbols convey more than thought


December 26, 2013
Human communication uses symbols for transmitting ideas. Gestures, nuances of tone, smiles, etc. communicate the thoughts and feelings of the speaker to the listener.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests two primary advantages that concrete symbols have over the spoken word. We see these concrete symbols everywhere, from necklaces to large structures built to communicate ideas and feelings.


A) Symbols employed, or symbolic acts performed by hundreds of individuals at the same time, underscore their sense of unity, uniformity and recognition of the teachings and principles that hold them together.

B) By accompanying us throughout our lives, regardless of our momentary concerns, symbols serve as constant reminders of the ideas they represent, an advantage that can never be attained by the spoken word or even by the written word.

If you are a Christian, the wearing of a cross is such a symbol. If Jewish, a six pointed star serves a similar purpose. These convey a series of ideas that would take a long time to explain, but are assumed by the wearing of such a symbol.

Jews also use another symbol called a Mezuzah. The literal meaning of this word is “door post.” In common usage it refers to the parchments inserted into a case affixed to the right door post of every door in the house. These contain the central prayers of Judaism, that God is One, and the instructions you place them on the door posts of your house and on your gates to remember the commandments of the Lord in your homes.

Throughout the world and throughout history these have decorated the doors of Jewish homes. They have been found dating back more than 2,000 years to the caves in Qumran (the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found) to the homes in Israel (even the Moslem quarter) which, although they may no longer belong to Jews, have a niche in the door frame for the placement of these scrolls.

The Torah presents this commandment to remind us our homes are transformed into a place of holiness. These verses are transcribed exactly as they appear in Torah. Any flaw in the writing makes them unusable for a mezuzah.

This can be understood in comparison to a modern day computer chip, which if it has a flaw, makes it unusable for a modern computer.

They (mezuzot — the plural of mezuzah) remind us our homes should be blessed and a repository of wisdom and awe of our creator. They are a symbol we should lead lives devoid of sin and transgression. In effect, they guard the home and protect it and its occupants. They increase the awareness of God’s presence in our lives.

They acknowledge the great kindness of our creator and the belief in an honorable and loving life towards all men (and women).

Amen and Amen.

Cantor Skully is with the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue and president of the Grosse Pointe Ministerial Association.


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