Bo II - THE DOOR
I WOULD LIKE to speak to you this morning on the subject of doors. First, because an important verse in the portion of the Torah we read today concerns itself with doors. Second, because of what I have seen in Israel some years ago.
Let me refer to the text first. The slaying of the firstborn was the last of the plagues. It was this makah which brought consternation and panic in the land of Egypt and forced Pharaoh to let the Children of Israel depart from his land.
The Israelites were instructed to protect themselves against the devastating ravages of that plague by putting a sign above their door. "And they shall take of the blood, and put it on the lintel.... And I will pass over you" (Exod. 12:7, 13). That is, in fact, how Passover derives its name.
Please note that of all the places in the home, the door was chosen to be marked in a way that would distinguish it from Egyptian homes. The blood had to be sprinkled on the sideposts and on the lintel of the door. Not the porch, nor the windows nor the roof but the door. Why?
The second reason for my choice of this odd theme is because of what I have seen in a certain new shikkun in Israel. There were rows of brand new homes that looked alike in almost every detail. To distinguish them, the homeowners installed their own doors. I was told that they were required to do so by the architects of that cooperative. Each homeowner had to select the kind of door that suited his taste. If the pre-fabricated structures resembled one another in every other way, at least the doors would be different and distinctive.
The door, you see, not only shelters and protects; it also reveals the nature and character of a man. By insuring privacy, the door permits the occupant to do what and as he pleases. It affords him the opportunity to bring forth the best and the worst in himself. While a person is in the open he is more or less constrained to be on his best behavior. He is coerced into conformity and is forced to tame his real self. As soon as the door of his home is shut and he is sheltered from public view, he is himself. Thus a man who is gentle, patient and polite with his customers, business associates and neighbors, will sometimes become gruff with his wife and children.
The role of the door in life was alluded to in the Talmud. Our sages inform us of a custom that prevailed in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem. Minhag gadol haya bi-yerushnlayim. There was an established custom in Jerusalem. When a cloth was tacked onto a door, strangers were welcome to enter and partake of a meal. But when the door was bare, it meant that strangers were not welcome to enter (Baba Batra 93b).
While we no longer spread a cloth on the door to indicate that strangers are welcome, or remove it to inform them that they are not wanted, doors in our day continue to reveal the character and the mood of the people they shelter. When we pass a Jewish door with a horseshoe nailed on it, regardless of whether the prongs face up or down, it tells us that the people residing in that house are ignorant of the meaning and purpose of their religion and are downright superstitious. A mezuzah on the door tells us that the people inside believe in the God of our people. Chances are that they have a positive relationship to Jewish interests and ideals.
Some doors announce proudly, "We have given." We have given to Mizrachi, Hadassah, the Heart or Cancer Funds. Other doors brazenly warn,"No peddlers or beggars allowed." The sign on a door which reads, "Private. No admittance," leaves me cold, but the mat on the door which says, "Welcome" warms the cockles of my heart.
When we open the door of a Jewish home, what do we see? If we see a Siddur, a Chumash and other books on Judaism on the shelves, it is heartwarming. If there is a Chanukah Menorah and Sabbath candlesticks on the mantlepiece, we know that it is contributing to the survival of our Faith. When the house lacks any vestige of Jewish identity we know that the inhabitants are Jewishly "on the way out."
When this Synagogue was built and we went to members of the community to solicit funds, we were usually welcomed with a warm handshake at the door. There were, however, instances when the doors were, figuratively speaking, slammed in our faces, and other doors were bolted before us.
There is a legend that on the night of the exodus from Egypt, a young Jewish boy --the first-born of the family-- was troubled on his sickbed and could not sleep. "Father," he inquired, "Are you absolutely sure that you put the sign of the blood on the door as God has commanded?" To which the father replied that he was busy packing their belongings for the long voyage ahead and had ordered someone to do it for him. The restless boy was not satisfied and insisted that his father take him in his arms and carry him to the door to see. And lo! The sign wasn't there! The promise had been forgotten and the order had been neglected. You can almost visualize the father's consternation as he hastened to put the sacred token of protection on the door of his house before it was too late.
Let us take the message of the door to heart and make the entrance to our homes a true symbol of loyalty and piety, of generosity and warmth.