The Magic Formula
Have you ever been drawn to a book or internet ad that had as its title: “Six Steps to Losing Twenty Pounds” or “Two Strategies to Triple Your Business in Six Months”? Many people have, and that is why these strategies have sold so well. Why shouldn’t you want the quick cheat sheet for life, the tips and tricks that will make you successful?
When reading these books, articles, blogs or webinars, you will find that they often state that results are not guaranteed and will vary based on effort. Some may be deterred by this fact, but most will still read or listen. What differentiates the successful from the unsuccessful is their implementation of these ideas. Those who do not fully follow the steps, skipping some or being ‘creative’ and making additions, blame the system when they fail. The fault, however, lies not with the system but their inability to follow it. Those who follow the system, like those taking coaching advice from an expert or medical advice from a doctor, will progress.
The Torah gives us a system for success, yet many decide that they know better than the ‘system.’ They have decided that some misvot are for them, but others are not. Some people may ‘do more’ in one particular misva, but they are actually subtracting by not following the instruction of the Torah. This guide, the Torah, and the benefits of following its instruction are emphasized numerous times, and should be readily apparent to those who read the Humash.
Bore Olam has promised that if we follow His misvot, we will, as a nation, live prosperously on the land of Israel. “And now, Yisrael, listen to the statutes and to the judgments which I teach you to do, so that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord, God of your forefathers, is giving you (Debarim 4:1).” He then says clearly that one must follow the instructions, exactly as they were given, without changing any iota of it. “Do not add to which I command you, nor diminish from it, to observe the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you (Debarim 4:2).” One who believes they know better than the Torah will make edits; one who trusts the system will follow it exactly as prescribed. Results may not show right away, but with time there will be growth. It is important to keep in mind that it is not a magic formula; it is a guide to implement with hard work and dedication.
The mezuzah is an example of a misva for which the Torah states explicitly that the reward is length of days on the land, and various midrashim express the protective benefits of having a mezuzah outside of one’s home. This seems like a magic formula. Set up the mezuzah, and you will gain length of days, and God will “not allow the Angel of Destruction to enter.” Indeed, many viewed the mezuzah as a plug-and-play protective mechanism. That is why they ‘upgraded’ with images and names of angels on the mezuzah parchment. They presumed this would add extra security. For example, Rabbi Eliezer Metz, one of the Tosafists and the author of Sefer Yereim, writes the following at the end of his section of hilkhot mezuzah:
Besides for the halakhot…the world is accustomed to adding additional protection to the home by writing at the end of the lines images and names of all sorts of angels. This does not detract, nor is it a misva, but an additional security measure.
Examples of these images and names of angels being written on mezuzot can be found in siddurim of the 11/12th century. This custom became widespread and was one Rambam saw the need to eradicate. He writes in his Mishne Torah the following:
“… those who write names of angels or holy names, or verses, or signs on the inside, are included with those who have no share in the World to Come.”
He then goes further:
For those fools not only do away with the misvah, but they take a great misvah, which contains the unity of God’s name and the concepts of loving and serving Him, and they make it into a good luck charm for their own benefit, based on whatever foolishness enters their hearts that they think will help them with the futilities of the world (Hilkhot Mezuza 5:4).
Rambam not only sees these additions as subtracting from the misva of mezuzah, he sees them as detrimental to a person’s nefesh. These behaviors are an outgrowth of living in a false reality and believing that one can manipulate existence through incantations, drawings, and other rituals invoking the powers of the supernatural. It is not a ‘nice thing to do,’ but rather extremely harmful, placing oneself at risk of losing his portion of olam haBa. This person no longer serves Hashem, but serves his own interest, doing what he imagines is best above and beyond the instruction of God. He takes a vehicle for serving Bore Olam and developing ahabat Hashem and emuna, and turns it into an amulet for his personal benefit.
In contrast, the mezuzah can offer protection, as the Hakhamim have indicated, but through allowing oneself to absorb the content, the message, contained in the mezuzah. Many follow the custom noted in the Rema and place their hand on the mezuza and say: “God, guard my going out etc.” This is a tefilla, directly to God, asking for His protection. One is clearly recognizing Him and expressing his emuna in Him as his protector.
Similarly, Rambam writes:
“each time that one enters and leaves [his home] he should concentrate on the Oneness of the Name of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and remember His love, and be aroused from his sleep and his mistaken [involvement] in the meaningless use of time. And one must know that the only thing which lasts forever is the knowledge of God (Hilkhot Mezuza 6:13).
The focus is on the message of the content, not on the shape, sound, or order of the letters or words. The protection the Hakhamim refer to is from living a life with the knowledge of Yihud Hashem as stated in Shema, Hashem ehad, God is one. Additionally, as we recite in the rest of the first paragraph of veAhabta as well as in the second paragraph veHaya,being dedicated to Him and His misvot. It is the internalization of these messages and living a life in the path of Hashem that will offer us the protection the pasuq is referring to.
Rabbi Hirsch articulated this well:
Only in as far as the contents of the mezuzah achieve an effect on the minds and feelings of the household so that it does regulate their lives in consonance with those contents, can they expect protection and support in all the vicissitudes of domestic life from God, the Supreme “All-sufficing One’ with which Name custom has adorned the outside of the mezuzah (Debarim 6:9).
The mezuzah indeed does help a person find protection. It helps him guard himself fromtransgressing. Every time a person enters or exits his home, or even a room in his home, he will be reminded of Hashem and separate himself from wrongdoing. He will be reminded that his behavior should be proper both in the streets when he leaves his home and in his house when he is in private.
The mezuzah, along with other misvot, are reminders of Hashem and our purpose on this earth. A life lived with Hashem in mind at all times is one with hashgaha peratit, divine providence. As stated in Tehillim: “For he yearns for Me, and I shall rescue him; I shall fortify him because he knows My name (Tehillim 91:14).” The mezuzah and the following of other misvot will be responded to by Bore Olam with long life, prosperity, and protection, but that is only if one follows them as instructed and internalizes the messages, thereby serving Bore Olam.
Rabbi Meyer Laniado
 Mekhilta 11, tBavli Menahot 33b
 Mekhilta 11
 Kesef Mishne Hilkhot Mezuza 5:4