There are some traditions from my Jewish background that have followed me into my life as a Christian. The menorah my family used when we celebrated Chanukah sits on one of my bookcases. On the anniversaries of my parents’ deaths, I put on my father’s prayer shawl, such as Jesus would have done at the Temple before he read from the scrolls, and recite the Kaddish, the prayer for those who mourn. On both my front door’s frame and my back door’s frame, hang two small boxes, the tops of which point to the east. In those boxes, those mezuzahs, are these words, written in Hebrew, from Deuteronomy II: 18-21, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words which I command thee this day shall be upon thy heart. And thou shalt teach them to thy children when thou sittest in thy house, when thou walkest by thy way, and when thou liest down and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the doorposts of thy house and upon thy gates that ye may remember and do all my commandments and be holy unto your God.”
Several months after my father died, my stepmother gave me a box of my items that belonged to my father, things she thought I might like to have. She had no idea what treasures she was giving me. The box contained my father’s prayer shawl, given to him on the occasion of his 13th birthday. Also in the box was a small blue velvet bag tied with a gold cord. Contained in that pouch were my father’s tefellin, the small black boxes I had seen my father wear on his head and on his left arm from time to time, such as after his parents died and when he headed out to synagogue with a friend for Sabbath services. I recall the time I had asked him why and how he wore those strange boxes, especially one that was tied by leather straps to his forehead. He started to explain and then stopped and told me to go get my bible. After he tied the boxes, one to my left arm and the other to my forehead, he opened the bible to Deuteronomy II and read verses 18-21.
As I stood feeling the pressure of the boxes strapped to my forehead and my bottom side of my upper arm, my father explained to me that he wore the tefellin out of a sense of duty to God. I had long been taught that with faith in God came responsibilities to God. Verses 18-21 were a summation of some of those responsibilities.
For as long as I can remember, I have had the habit of kissing my fingertips and then reaching up and touching the mezuzah that is affixed to the back doorpost of my house. I am certain it is a habit I developed from watching my father do the same thing each time he exited the house in which I was raised. That simple act, as I head out into the world, reminds me of God’s presence in my life and of my responsibility as a result of that presence. I try daily to live up to those responsibilities. I admit, some days I think I am much more successful than on others. But with each new day, as I head out the door, I tap my kissed fingertips on the box on the doorpost of my house and hope people whose paths I cross that day are able to see the love God has for each of them reflected in me.