What is Tefillin? Why is the Mitzvah of putting on Tefillin viewed as being so important? During a Bar Mitzvah it is a central part of the celebration. What is the purpose of donning Tefillin?
Perashat Bo – Passover
There are four perashiot (paragraphs written on leather parchments) inside Tefillin boxes. The same four appear both in the Tefillin that are placed on the head and the one on the arm. These perashiot speak about central concepts in Judaism.
The first perasha of “Kadesh li” discusses the freedom from slavery in Egypt. Two of the four sons from the Passover Seder are found in these paragraphs. The second perasha of “Vehaya Ki Yevi’acha” speaks about the plague of the first born of Egypt. The death of the first born of Egypt, in addition to redeeming of out first-born sons and animals, actuate a rejection of the strengths of idolatry and magical powers. The first born of the Egyptian as well as those of other nations were priests. The sanctity of the first born within Judaism is actually a rejection of idolatrous beliefs.
The final two paragraphs that are written in the tefillin are the most famous in Judaism. They are the first two paragraphs of “Shema Yisrael”. The portion of “Shema Yisrael” speaks about the Unity of the Blessed Creator and loving him. The final perasha is “Vehaya im Shmo’a”. It discusses Devine Providence and heavenly reward and punishment.
There is a distinct relationship between these four perashiot. They all mention the importance of study and internalization of these subjects. Additionally, educating children in these particular subjects is mandatory. One needs to constantly teach them to his children and even more so during the Passover Seder.
A source cited in the Talmud states “A child … who can take care of tefillin, his father acquires tefillin for him.” (Tosefta Chagiga 1, Succah 42a) Parents acquire tefillin when a child becomes old enough that he can care for himself and his tefillin. One can give this whole discussion a symbolic explanation.
These concepts that we have been discussing parents teach to their children from a very young age. Parents invest a lot of effort over the course of many years to teach these concepts to their children. The father ties these central concepts that are in the tefillin onto the child’s body when he is old enough to care for himself and his things. Through this the child internalizes these subjects until they actually become part of him.
Every Bar Mitzvah boy knows the importance of the Unity of the Creator, Divine Providence, reward and punishment, the exodus from Egypt and the rejection of Avoda Zara.
At the end of Perashat Bo we find two of the four paragraphs which we write on parchment and put into sturdy leather boxes which we call Tefillin. In its Tefillin oriented commandment the first of these paragraphs uses a different syntax than the others.
It should a be sign for you on your hand and a remembrance between your eyes, so that the teachings of G-d will be in your mouth since with a mighty hand G-d took you out of Egypt.
What is Tefillin
Our rabbis of blessed memory have said that the Mitzvah of Tefillin is equal to the entire Torah. (Torah Shelema) I believe that this Mitzvah is similar to tying a thread around your finger to remember something. By donning Tefillin we should remember the concepts which we learn from the Torah. A person who wears Tefillin should find it difficult to steal, yell at his mother, or think licentious thoughts all of which are forbidden and are especially mentioned with regards to wearing Tefillin.
In the Torah is a story about the first man who violated Shabat. There is a Midrash which remarks that Moshe Rabbienu said to G-d that the man sinned because it was Shabbat when it is forbidden to wear Tefillin. He had no reminder of G-d’s presence. Under an Ideal situation which has not yet occurred in Jewish History it is best to wear Tefillin all day. Some have said that this applies more to those who are working than those who are immersed in Torah Study.
might say that it is childish to require a constant reminder but for busy people like ourselves we need secretaries and all types of electronic gadgetry to remind us of what we need to do.
The concepts which are written on the parchments of the Tefillin discuss many topics which are central to a Torah lifestyle. A central theme in the first two paragraphs (in our Perashsa) is the final plague of the death of all of the firstborn which included man and beast. It is pointed out that since the Jewish firstborn were spared they must be redeemed from the sanctity which was then given to them. This demonstrates to us the greatness of G-d who differentiated between Jewish households and Egyptians, he knew which of a set of twins was firstborn and which animal was a firstborn. We use this to demonstrate G-d’s providence. G-d can guide us and intervene in any of our plans. Additionally, we see this providence in the Tefillin with a mention of G-d’s removing us from slavery in Egypt.
Concepts involving Passover and education of children are also mentioned several times. On Passover we have a special Mitzvoth to tell our children how we were released from bondage in Egypt. Indeed, the subject of education, both for us and our children is recurrent many times in all four paragraphs. Knowledge of the Mitzvoth and all of the concepts in the Torah should be a fundamental part of all of our lives. I have been known to say that Judaism does not thrive on ignorance.
The other two paragraphs inside the Tefillin are from the Shemah Yisrael. In these paragraphs we meet up with concepts of monotheism, love of G-d, education for all, writing Mezuzot, the tremendous rewards in store for us if we love G-d and follow the Torah, the punishment if we don’t, and many more.
For those who don Tefillin and think about these concepts it is considered that he was busy studying Torah. (Mechilta)