Symbolic Objects

April 11, 2012

by: Rebecca J. Brimmer, International President and CEO

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Shofar—The ram’s horn can be blown like a trumpet and can be of varying sizes and appearances: from fairly short (6–10 in, 15–25 cm.) to very long (a yard or meter). It is first found in Exodus 19:16 when Moses receives the Torah (Gen.–Deut.) at Mount Sinai. It is also found in the description of the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:24; 25:9; Num. 29:1).It was used to call people for holy convocations (feasts), to sound alarms, and to anoint kings. When you see the word “trumpet” in your English Bible, it often refers to the shofar, although it can also refer to a silver trumpet.

Mezuzah—This cylinder or box contains a portion of Scripture that is attached to a doorframe. It is often quite beautiful and can be made of wood, ceramic, metal, or even stone. The scroll is inscribed with the Shema (Deut. 6:4–9) and the vehayah (Deut. 11:13–21). In both of these passages, we find the injunction to love the Lord your God. Yeshua (Jesus) quoted from Deuteronomy 6 when He gave the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:37). Each of these passages contains the instruction: “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

If you visit a Jewish friend, you will most likely see a mezuzah on their doorframe. When you visit Jerusalem and walk through the Jaffa Gate of the Old City, you will see a very large mezuzah. Devout Jewish people will always take notice of the mezuzah as they enter a door, usually by kissing their fingers and lightly touching the fingers to the mezuzah. It serves as a constant reminder that God is to be loved, and His commandments are to be obeyed.

Tefillin—These are square leather boxes with leather straps that Jewish men bind to their head and their arms (close to their heart) each morning. The boxes contain the same passages of Scripture as the mezuzah plus Exodus 13:1–16. The mezuzah and the tefillin are to be constant reminders of the Lord. “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (Deut. 11:18).

Tallit—This four-cornered garment is worn by Jewish men when praying and is often referred to as a prayer shawl. On the corners are knotted fringes called tzitzit. The biblical description is found in Numbers 15: “…Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments…and you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them…” (vv. 38–39). Yeshua wore tzitzit on His garment, which were touched by the woman with the issue of blood who was healed (Mark 5:25–34). (To learn more, read our Israel Teaching Letter, “Yeshua Wore a Prayer Shawl.”)

These wonderful Jewish symbols have so much to teach us about our faith. But we must understand that our Jewish friends can be very alarmed to see Christians suddenly using (and often misusing) symbols that have been revered in Judaism for millennia. So let’s remember to learn with respect and sensitivity.

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