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Why is the letter Shin on the Tefillin four-pronged?

by Rabbi Simcha Bart


Library » Mitzvot » Tefillin | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Below is an excerpt from Letters of Light by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin.

The shin with four columns is found on the Tefillin that is worn on the head. One side of the head tefillin has a shin with three lines and the other has one with four lines. In his personal notes, the Rebbe offers two reasons for this. First, the four-lined shin is the shin of the Luchos, the Tablets of the Ten Commandments. The four lines represent the awesomeness and holiness of the engraving of G-d's word into physical stone. To visualize this, imagine the three lines of the shin etched into stone. If you focus on the stone that remains around the shin, there will be four columns. These are the four lines of this form of the shin. They are the wake, the reflected light of the Luchos.

The second of the Rebbe's reasons is that the four-pronged shin represents the four mothers: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

One can make a connection between these two interpreta­tions. Like the Luchos, the teachings of our mothers are truly inscribed upon our hearts and minds. A mother teaches out of love and compassion. Her lessons commence even before birth and make an everlasting impression upon her children. Contrast this with the instruction of one's father. This begins slightly later in life, and often in an atmosphere of austerity and sever­ity.

The mother's education is more fundamental, more indelible and is therefore represented by the Luchos, which are engraved. The father's education is likened to the letters of the Torah, ink on parchment, which can be erased. Even though the father's instructions are important, the mother has a more impression­able and permanent effect on the child. Our mothers and the awesomeness of their teachings are therefore, like the Luchos, represented by the four-pronged shin.


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Shin is Chochma, Bina and Daas?

Posted by: Menashe, New Jersey on May 28, 2007

I've heard another interesting explanation: that the three lines of the Shin correspond to the three intellectual attributes, Chocma, Bina and Daas. However, bkitzur, the third one, Daas, which is also the third step in internalizing the knowledge we learn, is also somewhat of an emotive attribute, and could actually be split up into two categories of "intellectual" and "emotional" Daas. Thus, the four lined Shin, on only one side, gives credence to both its place in the intellectual and emotional categories.

Editor's Comment

That is indeed another reason (although not mentioned in the above quoted book). Daat is sort of a cocoon: a thought enters Daat as intellect but exits Daat as an emotion, and thus it can be seen as an attribute of the intellect and as an attribute of the emotions. Portraying both aspects of Daat is especially relevant in Tefillin, because Tefillin too are meant to create a connection between our thoughts and emotions.


Life Cycle » Bar/Bat Mitzvah » Tefillin

Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Black leather boxes containing small scrolls with passages of the Bible written on them. Every day, aside for Sabbath and Jewish holidays, the adult Jewish male is required to wrap the Tefillin--by means of black leather straps--around the weaker arm and atop the forehead.
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
First Jewess, first of the four Jewish Matriarchs, wife of Abraham--the first Jew. Lived in Mesopotamia, and then Canaan, in the 19th century BCE.
Second of the Jewish Matriarchs. Wife of the Patriarch Isaac, and father of Jacob. b. 1675 BCE, d. 1553 BCE.
Brother of Moses. First High Priest of Israel and progenitor of all Kohanim (priests) until this very day. Died in the year 1272 b.c.e.
Third of the four Jewish matriarchs. Daughter of Laban, favorite wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Died while giving birth to Benjamin in 1557 BCE.
Fourth of the four Jewish matriarchs. Elder daughter of Laban, wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of six of the Tribes, including Levi and Judah.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.