you got to look outside of your eyes / you got to think outside of your brain
you got to walk outside your life to where the neighborhood changes.
                                                                                                                -ani difranco

Lately I’ve been praying on the edge. I daven on the doorsteps of little shuls, of great synagogues, of our yeshiva, even of the room where I pray at home. Sometimes I start out inside the synagogue, closer to the center, but I find myself heading for the door at some point. There isnt a particluar problem, and so I don’t leave, I just hang out there, half in, half out, the only place I fit right now. And I think to myself: there are people who live this way, all the time.

On Chanukah our tradition is to light the menorah “al petach beito”, at the entrance (or exit) of the home. Why do we light at the doorstep? To focus our awareness on those who are marginal, peripheral, on the outside looking in. There are “mezuzah people” in this world, people who aren’t inside a society or completely outside either. Maybe they’re peering through the windows to see what kind of welcome they can expect; maybe they’re leaving, but they turn back for one last look. Or maybe they just feel they belong there, that their home really is a sleeping bag on the top step, up against the door.

We always have the mezuzah on the doorpost, guarding the threshold, the liminal points, the in-between places. There always needs to be a place for those who don’t fit in. We all know that when someone comes knocking on your door, you let that person in, give them something to drink and eat, and maybe even listen to them a little. But what about those who aren’t knocking? For those people the mezuzah isn’t enough- we need the light of Chanukah. The mezuzah tells you that you are welcome here; the menorah lights up the dark streets outside, and actually calls out an invitation. On Chanukah we go out looking for guests.

created at: 2010-11-15The menorah asks us some tough questions: Do we really need everything we own, or can we spare something for the people outside? What about the Jews who feel they have no place to go? Have we made them welcome? Have we made room for them in our synagogues and community centers?

And the questions extend beyond our own home. Have we reached out? Have we illuminated the world outside? Have we heard the cry of the street? It’s cold outside, have we warmed anyone today? It’s dark out there, have we made it any lighter?

The Bible says “Echad haya Avraham”- Abraham was one. (Ezekiel 33:24) He was alone and marginalized by most of his society, but he started a non-violent revolution that has lasted for millenia; his aloneness is a basic dimension of Jewish existence. No matter how at home we feel, all of us are in some way mezuzah people. At some point in our lives, all of us confront the thresholds of existence, we feel profoundly out of place, and it is in these moments that our deepest self is revealed.

We need to spend more time on the boundary-markers of our lives, because that is where we truly receive chidush, newness, the light of radical renewal. Is it scary? Are we more comfortable and secure in our living rooms? If we are willing to reach out to them and invite them into our home, we can learn a lot from mezuzah people. We can learn courage, confidence, and how to be creatively lonely when necessary. I’m waiting myself to hear a call to come closer, to enter the shul, to sit closer to the center again.

Until I do, I’m going to keep praying on the edge, and I’ll be thinking of those who haven’t yet been inside.