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What is the significance of Tefillin?

by Rabbi Tzvi Shapiro

  

Library » Life Cycle » Bar/Bat Mitzvah » Tefillin | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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Creating a Bond 

Tefillin are a Mitzvah.

The word Mitzvah means commandment. It also means connection. Through fulfilling a Divine commandment we become connected with the Divine.

An ideal relationship between two entities is when each party is in it for the benefit of the other. A focus on the other, forms the strongest connection with it. In every Mitzvah there are thus two aspects: 1) G-d loves us, so He gives us a commandment. 2) We love G-d, so we fulfill it.

So what is the significance of Tefillin? It depends from whose perspective: G-d's or ours.

Wedding Band

Regarding Tefillin G-d writes in His Torah1 "and you shall bind them a sign upon your arms and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes".

Love is a very powerful attribute. Your every decision and thought is molded by your concern for your beloved. Yet love per se is very abstract and cannot be quantified or displayed. So we have signs of our love, such as a wedding band. A wedding band is essentially just a piece of gold. Anyone can buy it, and anyone can wear it. But society designated the wedding band as a sign of a deeply rooted committed love. It is no longer a gold ring. It is a wedding band.

G-d is aware that mortal beings would not always be cognizant of this abstract love, so He gave the Jew Tefillin as a tangible sign of His eternal love.
Similarly, G-d's love for the Jewish people is deeply rooted in the G-dhead, and His every decision and thought is for the benefit of His people. But G-d is aware that mortal beings would not always be cognizant of this abstract love, so He gave the Jew Tefillin as a tangible sign of His eternal love.

Wherever a Jew may be - geographically, historically, emotionally, or spiritually - he wears the Tefillin like a newlywed bride wears her wedding band. Perhaps to some extent Tefillin are leather boxes and straps, but in the context of a loving relationship they are a sign of a Divine bond.

It's Not Me, It's You

In most prayer books there is a meditation illustrating what the Jew thinks about when he dons Tefillin. He thinks about the oneness of G-d. He thinks about the Exodus from Egypt; the countless miracles G-d did for us as a People, and for me as a person.

He thinks if someone saved my life I would be forever indebted and grateful to that individual. He thinks G-d gave me life and sustains it constantly; I ought to spend my entire life giving to G-d.

So he takes a moment every (weekday2) morning to unite his intellect, emotions, speech and actions in a gesture of thanks to G-d. He dons (action) Tefillin on his bicep parallel to his heart (emotions), on his head above his brain (intellect), and recites blessings and prayers (speech).

Thus the Jews says: G-d this might just be a brief moment in my day, but it is an all encompassing moment at the beginning of my day. It synchronizes all of my faculties for the rest of the day. It aligns my thoughts, feelings, words and deeds, in Your direction.

See also How do I put on Tefillin?

Footnotes

  • 1. Deuteronomy 6:8
  • 2. Shabbat and Biblical Holidays serve as a similar sign of G-d's love for us and our love for Him, so we don't need (and don't put on) Tefillin.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Tefillin

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
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.
Tefillin
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.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
G-d
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.