The extraordinary spiritual mitzva of tefillin - a sign of faith, covenant, and divine protection. On Hayom Yom for 19 Menachem Av.
In Judaism, one of the most physically distinctive mitzvot is the wearing of tefillin. To an outsider, they may just appear to be small leather boxes attached by straps. But to Jews, they are so much more than that. Tefillin are a conduit to the divine, a physical symbol of our covenant with God, and a daily practice that links us with generations of our ancestors.
The commandment to wear tefillin is rooted directly in the Torah itself: "And you shall bind them as a sign on your arm, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes." (Deuteronomy 6:8). This "sign" serves as a daily reminder of our ongoing relationship with God. But how do we navigate the depths of this relationship? How does a pair of small black boxes help us connect with the Divine?
A PUBLIC DECLARATION OF FAITH
In Deuteronomy 28:10, we read, "Then all the peoples of the earth will see that the name of the Lord is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you." Our sages interpret this verse as referring to tefillin, worn as a visible sign of our faith and covenant with God. This act not only serves as a personal reminder of our divine responsibilities but also announces to the world our dedication and commitment to the teachings of the Torah.
A PERSONAL REMINDER AND DETERRENT FROM SIN
In the Talmud, Berachot 6a, Rav Huna says, "A person who has tefillin on his head and arm, tzitzit on his garment, and a mezuzah on his doorway can be assured that he will not sin. As it is said, 'And all the peoples of the earth will see that the name of the Lord is proclaimed over you' — and they will stand in awe of you." This passage underscores the practical and protective function of tefillin as a deterrent from sin, acting as a tangible reminder of our spiritual commitment and our covenantal relationship with God.
REKINDLING THE DIVINE COVENANT
In the Midrash Tanchuma, Bo 16, it states, "The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, 'My children, I beg you, at the time when you are wearing the tefillin, I will see them and remember your love at the time when you accepted the Torah.'" Here, the act of donning tefillin symbolically renews the covenant with God, serving as a reciprocal reminder of the enduring relationship between the Jewish people and the Divine.
PROTECTION AGAINST SPIRITUAL ADVERSITY
Finally, in the Zohar, Exodus, 2:36b-237a, we discover a more mystical interpretation: "Rabbi Yehuda said, 'How much should people take care to put on tefillin daily! For the entire world is afraid of them.' The friends asked, 'What is the reason?' He answered, 'Because it is the weapon of the Holy One, blessed be He.'" Here, tefillin are depicted as a spiritual armor that shields the wearer from negative spiritual forces, providing a mystical layer of protection and spiritual strength.
To summarize, tefillin, as commanded by the Torah, embody deep spiritual significance and protection. They serve as a public declaration of faith, a personal reminder, a rekindling of the divine covenant, and a safeguard against spiritual adversity. The act of putting on tefillin reflects a distinct aspect of Jewish identity and spirituality. It is an expression of Jewish commitment and continuity, a reminder of our historical and spiritual journey, and an enduring sign of our ongoing covenant with God.