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Thought for the Day: Check Your Mezuzos Twice in Seven Years (A PSA)

My father, עליו השלום, once let me change the spark plugs on our car.  He warned me, "Be sure to take off only one at a time!"  I was a bit confused, as I had no thought to take them off (all eight... this was the 70s) by the handful.  As I started to remove the first one, though, I realized what he meant.  For those of you who are still mystified: Before electronic ignition, power was sent to the spark plugs via a distributor cap/rotor system.  The rotor, of course, delivers the power to the attached wires sequentially.  However, the cylinders of the car do not fire sequentially.  That means that the order of the spark plugs connected to the distributor cap is crucial to the running of the car.  In fact, the results of mixing up the order is at best a poorly running engine and at worst real damage to the engine.  So of course I replaced them one at a time, being careful with the order.  Also of course, though, I told my father, "Don't worry Dad.  I took them all off one at a time; now I am going to start connecting them one at a time."  I was a rewarded with a brief look of panic until he realized I was kidding.

Mezuzos need to be checked twice in seven years.  That's the halacha.  Some people like to have them checked every year right before Rosh HaShanah; extra credit... but it is the days of awe, after all.  Some check them every Adar II.  Since there are seven Adar II's every 19 years; that works out to just under three times in seven years.  That's comfortably safe.  Others have them checked when they think about it.  That's a very, very bad plan.  It is also the schedule I have been using till yesterday...

You are allowed to leave your house without mezuzos for a day while you have them checked.  Some sofrim will make house calls; but it's really not a big deal to handle it yourself.  First rule: mezuzos have to be returned to the same doorpost from which they were removed.  There are two basic reasons for that.  First, you are not allowed to downgrade a doorway with a less expensive/less beautiful mezuzah.  Since not all mezuzos are created equal, you are safest to keep them where they are; otherwise you will almost certainly be downgrading some doorways (albeit upgrading others, but errors don't cancel in halacha; they add).  Secondly, not all doorways are created equal.  Doorways with arches, partial doorposts on one or both sides, sans doors, inside doors are all obligated at different levels and all potentially obligated less than a regular outside door.  Therefore, play it safe and put them back from whence they came.

The easiest way to ensure the correct placement is to simply put one piece of masking tape on the doorpost and one the mezuzah case (or ziplock bag, if you are taking them out of the case); then write the same number on both.  Assuming all are kosher and you get them replaced on the same day, you just put them up without a bracha.  Of course... life is never quite that simple.

One of ours was פסול/invalid.  When I say פסול, that is an understatement.  The only visible evidence left of the mezuzah was the smear of ink on the inside of the cellophane in which it had been wrapped.  How did that happen, you may be asking yourself.  It was the mezuzah from the deck, that had -- despite a waterproof holder -- been bested by several (I am embarrassed to tell you how many) Chicago winters.  No problem; we'll just get a new one -- extra beautiful, of course.  One serious issue, though.

What's the issue?  The mezuzos were going back up on the day they were removed, so no bracha should be required.  That one doorway (on the deck), though, hadn't had a mezuzah for Lord Knows how long.  That one, therefore, might require a bracha when affixing the mezuzah.  Why only "might"?  First, the deck doorway only has half height doors (double, like many decks).  The Rambam holds that a doorway without a door does not require a mezuzah.  We put one up because of the other authorities that argue, but without a bracha; it's the Rambam, after all.  Secondly, if the mezuzah cannot be placed in such a way that it can survive the elements, then the Chazon Ish holds that it does not require a mezuzah.  Moreover, the Chazon Ish would not allow you to put up a mezuzah in that case because it will come to be invalidated and is therefore a disgrace to the mitzvah.

So I measured the doors; they are 39" tall and therefore meet the minimum 10 טפחים/handbreadth measure needed to be considered a full qualified door to require a mezuzah.  (In fact, 35" would have been good enough; 37" just to be safe.)  We got a better waterproof case to satisfy the opinion of the Chazon Ish.  We also moved one of the less beautiful mezuzos (from an inside doorway) to the deck and replaced it with a more beautiful mezuzah.  (Note well: upgrading the mezuzah would not be sufficient change to warrant a new bracha.)

There you have it.  One parting word.  The difference between a beautiful mezuzah and an extra beautiful mezuzah was $10.00.  I find it hard to justify being cheap for $10.00 per doorway on a house that retails for 100s of thousands of dollars.

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