The Private Compromise

The Parsha this week provides us with the second paragraph of “Shema”. In it, there are a couple lines which are repeated from the first paragraph, mentioned last week. One of these instructions is the obligation to “write these words upon the doorposts of your homes” (11:20), what we call the “mezuzah”. But how is this inscription supposed to be affixed to the doorpost? When discussing the Gemara on Mencahot 33, Rashi comments that it should be placed vertically on the doorpost, whereas his grandson, Rabbeinu Tam, believed that it should be placed horizontally.


In deciding the halacha, Rav Moshe Isserles (YD 289) ruled in accordance to the opinion of the Rosh, that one should try placing the mezuzah at an angle, a compromise between the two opinions. This has become the prevalent Ashkenazic practice (Sefardim follow Rashi and place the Mezuzah vertically). But why, of all mitzvot and obligations, is this one decided by compromise? We practice many mitzvot each day, and they are almost always based on following one opinion, while rejecting the others! Why do we all of the sudden change the rules when it comes to mezuzah, and decide to compromise?


Perhaps the key lies with where we are strictly obligated to place the mezuzah- at the entrance of our homes. When we perform our practices is public spaces, at Shul or in the office, our observance of ritual should be done with scrupulous adherence. In an environment where others don’t follow our same values, we have to be uncompromising in what we have to do. When we deal within our private relationships, however, in our “homes”, we can’t be so calculating and exacting about rigid rules. When working with others, especially those closest to us, we have to be willing to compromise. As we transition from our public life -one of needed boundaries and strict adherence- to our private, intimate relationships, we remind ourselves to compromise. At that very threshold, we place a marker, a mezuzah, which reminds us that even in our religion of strict adherence, our same religion encourages us to compromise with our parent, spouse, child, and close friends. Perhaps this is why compromise on its placement- not putting entirely one way, but at an angle, working together for the sake of our relationships.