If you ever think that putting up a mezuzah is challenging, consider the origins of the practice. God told Moshe and Aharon to command the Israelites to take a lamb and slaughter it at home. Next, “they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts (mezuzot) and the lintel of the houses in which they are to eat it” (Exodus 12:7). Later in this chapter, Moshe instructs them with a bit more detail. “Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the saf, and apply some of the blood that is in the saf to the lintel and to the two doorposts…” (12:22).
So what’s a saf? The meaning of this word was debated in antiquity by two great sages, Rabbis Yishma’el and ‘Akiva. Here’s how it’s recorded in the midrash:
“Scripture teaches that one should dig a trough in the lintel and slaughter [the lamb, with the blood dripping] into it. Saf means lintel, [as it does in Ezekiel 43:8 and Isaiah 6:4]. This is the opinion of Rabbi Yishma’el. But Rabbi ‘Akiva said that saf signifies a vessel [bringing a prooftext from I Kings 7:50].
To Rabbi Yishma’el, the word means the threshold of the front door of the home. Rabbi ‘Akiva thinks it means that the blood was to be drained into a basin. Obviously, Rabbi ‘Akiva’s interpretation is much tidier, though both would make us moderns queasy. But is there a deeper disagreement at hand? On Shabbat morning, I’ll share another way to understand their disagreement, one with ongoing implications for Jewish life in places where we are in the minority.
Shabbat Shalom and Shalom al Yisrael,
Rabbi David Wise
Candle lighting: 4:38 PM
Torah Reading: Exodus 10:1-13:16
Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28