In the summer of 1973, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, made numerous urgent requests that children should be encouraged to give coins to tzedakah and recite a few Torah passages, such as the Shema and Torah Tziva.
Chassidim were astonished, and also somewhat nervous about the urgency and frequency of these requests.
When the war broke out on Yom Kippur of that year, the Rebbe said he had not been aware of what was pushing him throughout the summer to initiate these campaigns with children, but now he understood because these particular mitzvahs are connected with the protection of Jewish life, especially when performed by children “whose breath is free of sin.”
Later during that year, the Rebbe added more protective mitzvah campaigns. On Chanukah, he particularly emphasized the Mitzvah of Mezuzah since we light the menorah on the left side of the doorway, opposite the mezuzah, which is on the right. During the ensuing months, the Mitzvah campaigns grew in number to five, and finally to ten Mitzvah campaigns. In response to the Rebbe’s call about the importance of mezuzahs, Chabad rabbis everywhere began a widespread campaign and found the situation was a mess. The vast majority of mezuzahs on congregants doors were of inferior quality, or had developed problems after not being checked in years, or were just paper photocopies stuck inside some small case purchased in a department store.
All this was dramatically and tragically underscored on Wednesday, May 15th. Dozens of young students from Tzefat had been traveling on an excursion to the Golan and were sleeping in a school building in the northern town of Maalot. Terrorists crept up during the night, took control of the school building, and began murdering the children inside.
Jews throughout the world were horrified. Seventeen children had been killed. Several others were seriously wounded. Since many of the children had come from Tzefat, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kaplan, the Rebbe’s shaliach (emissary) there, became especially involved in comforting the bereaved families. Later on that day, Rabbi Kaplan and several volunteers went to the school building in Tzefat, from where the students had come, to check the mezuzahs. Opening them one by one, they found that seventeen were not kosher, the same as the number of children who had perished! Soon after, three more of the children from Tzefat passed away.
When the Rebbe was informed of all this, he sent instructions to double check the building and make sure that all the mezuzahs had been inspected. The volunteers returned and took careful inventory. They found they had overlooked the mezuzahs in the kitchen and dining hall. Two of these were found to be posul (not kosher), two others were of questionable status.
In his address at the farbrengen, the Chassidic gathering that Shabbat, the Rebbe spoke about the terrible atrocity, and added an unusual personal comment:
“Lately, I have been obsessively preoccupied with the mezuzah campaign.”
“They have been pushing me ( from Above), and have not given me any rest, and are insisting that I speak about the importance of kosher mezuzahs. I did not understand why they pushed so much. Now we can see that this event was directly connected with the mezuzah campaign.”
During the following week, people wrote to the Rebbe asking how it was possible people were murdered just because their mezuzahs were not kosher.
The next Shabbat, the Rebbe replied, “G-d forbid that anyone should think a person would be punished for not having kosher mezuzahs. Heaven forbid! However, one can understand from the following metaphor: When a soldier is on the front lines, he has to wear a helmet. Even though the helmet is heavy, uncomfortable, and costly to supply, the soldier must still wear it. There is gunfire. Bullets and artillery shells are flying. If a terrorist should fire a gun, the soldier must have protection.”
“The Zohar states about the Mitzvah of Mezuzah that it protects you when you’re going out and while you’re coming in. Having a kosher mezuzah on your doorposts is like a soldier having a helmet. If you have kosher mezuzahs, they provide protection. It is their function, and not a reward for doing the mitzvah. If a terrorist fires a gun, the helmet will protect the soldier. It is not the other way around, that if he does not wear the helmet, it causes the terrorist to fire a gun. Similarly, if a person does not have kosher mezuzahs, it does not mean will be harmed, Heaven forbid! But if he has kosher mezuzahs, they will protect him.”
“The Almighty gives each and every one of us protective gear,”continued the Rebbe. “And He pleads with us to go in His ways! As it says in Bechukosai, ‘If you will only go in My ways … you will be protected!”‘ (Leviticus 26:3-26:9)
The terrible tragedy of Maalot will not be forgotten. But since that time, millions of mezuzahs have been written and affixed to Jewish homes, schools and businesses everywhere, protecting hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives.
Every mitzvah brings us closer to the day when there will be no more violence or heartbreak. Who knows? Perhaps the next kosher mezuzah that is affixed to a doorway will be the one last mitzvah that tips the scales for good, bringing salvation and redemption to the world with the coming of Moshiach!
The story of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and the crossing of the Sea of Reeds relates that the waters became a solid wall on the Jews’ right hand and on their left hand (Exodus, 14:22). The Yalkut Shimoni comments this great miracle happened in the merit of two mitzvahs the Jews would receive at Mount Sinai: the Mitzvah of Mezuzah, which goes on the right side of the doorpost, and the Mitzvah of Tefillin, which we wear on our left hand over the heart.