Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.
At the door to a Jewish home, you are likely to see a small, decorative box attached to the doorframe. If you opened it up, you’d see a small scroll of parchment or paper with Deuteronomy 6:4: שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה׀ אֶחָֽד׃, or “Listen, Israel! Our God is the LORD, the LORD alone.”
This box, called a mezuzah (meh-ZOO-zuh), is placed on the doorframe to keep the command in Deuteronomy 6:9, and to remind the people that it is God who should be first: first on their minds, first in their families, first in their work and play, first in their homes. By placing the mezuzah at the door, residents of the home would be reminded every time they leave and enter their home that God is God alone. Daily, multiple times a day, the mezuzah points Jewish people toward God.
Of course, a mezuzah doesn’t only affect the people living in the house. Guests, delivery people, door-to-door salespeople, and trick-or-treaters can all see the mezuzah. For those in the know, it identifies the residents of the home as observant Jews; for those who wonder what it is, it can lead to conversation and learning.
Most homes have some kind of external marker to tell passers-by about the people who live there. Maybe it’s a carved wooden sign with the family name. Maybe it’s a themed mailbox. Maybe it’s a pride flag. Maybe it’s a giant collection of inflatable yard decorations. And, when those markers align with our likes and interests, we tend to think better of the people living in that home– even when we don’t know them!
These days, plenty of homes have another kind of sign to define the inhabitants: election signs. Vote yes, vote no, vote for so-and so: whatever the sign, the goal is to show support for a particular candidate or platform. And, as with any other house marker, we very often jump to conclusions about the people inside the house based on whether or not we approve of the message on the sign– even when we don’t know them!
Yard signs don’t invite conversation; they usually end it before it begins! That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to have a yard sign or to participate in elections as a Christian who is also a citizen of your country, but that it’s something to think carefully about. Do the signs make it easier or harder for you to remember that God comes first? Do they make it easier or harder for your neighbors to see that God comes first in your life?
I like the tradition of the mezuzah because it puts the first things first. It provides a reminder every day, multiple times a day, that loving God with heart, soul, and strength is what matters.It’s a sign that’s aimed at the people in the home, not at passers-by. It’s a sign that tells it plain: God is God, and that affects everything.
As Christians, it would be inappropriate to put up mezuzahs on our homes. But could we borrow the wisdom of our Jewish siblings to find a way to remind ourselves over and over that God is God, and that our call is to love God above all else? Maybe you could put a note inside your dashboard, so whenever you drive somewhere, you remember to keep God first. Or you could write out the Bible verses above and tape them inside your own front door. Or set the background on your phone to something that reminds you to love God with all you’ve got.
That’s the most important sign there is: God is God alone. God comes first, before any other.