An Ancient Roman Mezuzah

I have found the following story to be an inspiring and truly uplifting insight into the role of the Mezuzah in our lives and in our relationship with G-D. In fact, I was so moved when I first heard it, that I immediately made a note to share it with my fellow Mezuzah enthusiasts. I hope you enjoy it as well…

This story takes us back to near ancient times, circa 35–120 CE, as we join a fellow named Onkelos, somewhere in the blazing, sun scorched deserts of the  middle east. Onkelos, a member of the Roman royal family and nephew to the then Roman Emperor Hadrian,  is on a journey, traveling from Rome to Jerusalem, on a diplomatic errand from the royal Roman court.

Though he is unaware of this at the time, the journey he is on is about to alter the course of Jewish history and will change his life forever.

After arriving in the holy land, Onkelos is appalled at the horrific persecution under which the Jewish people were forced to live, and, at the same time, he is inspired by their faith, their history, their learning and their commitment to Hashem. It did not take long, and he took upon himself the religion of the persecuted Jews and converted.  He gave himself over entirely to the study of the Torah. His perseverance and dedication were so great that his teachers became concerned about his health, but Onkelos continued learning day and night until he became well-versed in all the secrets of the Torah.

After a short time the emperor Hadrian found out that his nephew Onkelos had accepted the Jewish religion and had become one of the foremost Jewish scholars. The emperor was beside himself with rage, and he sent a company of soldiers to arrest Onkelos and to bring him in chains to Rome.

Hadrian sent 2 troops who failed their mission and converted. when he sent the third troop he sent a company of troops with high officers at the head, with the express orders not to say one word to Onkelos and not to answer any questions, but to arrest him immediately.

The messengers arrived and started to carry out the emperor’s orders without delay. They led him out of his house. At the door Onkelos stopped, and joyfully kissed the Mezuzah.

The messengers gazed at him in wonder, and could not restrain themselves from asking him:

“What does that thing on the door symbolize, and why are you so happy at being taken to Rome, where your uncle will surely have your head chopped off?”

“I laugh at foolish people. A king sits in his palace and has guards around him to protect him from danger. But the Jewish King, the L-rd of the world, allows his servants to sit quietly at home and He protects them from outside. That is the Mezuzah on our door!”

The royal messengers fell entirely under the influence of Onkelos’s words and it did not take long before they also became his faithful disciples.

When Hadrian saw that he would not be able to bring his nephew by force, he decided that there must be some special reason for all this. He had a strong desire to see his nephew, so he swore that he would not harm him if he would come to visit him voluntarily.

Onkelos started out for Rome. When he presented himself to the Emperor, he was surprised to see that Onkelos had lost much weight. Onkelos assured him that he had gained much Torah and wisdom instead. Hadrian then asked him why he had left his home, and his religion and accepted the religion of a small nation that was persecuted and ill-treated by all the other nations of the world?

“I listened to your good advice,” Onkelos answered him with a smile. “You advised me to buy a material for which there are few customers. I traveled throughout the world and I could not find anything that has fewer customers than the Jewish religion. I bought it and I found that I had made a bargain. The holy Jewish Prophets have promised that the poor persecuted Jewish nation will become a nation of princes; that the kings throughout the world will consider themselves honored to serve them; and the Torah, which is now down-trodden, will be recognized by all nations, and Jerusalem will be the lighthouse of the whole world.