Inside Tefillin – Shema Yisrael – Overview of Tefillin and Mezuzot
The last Pasuk of the Shema Yisrael paragraph says:
Tie them as a sign on your hand and for Totafot – ornament between your eyes. Write them on the Mezuzot – door posts of your home and your gates. (Devarim 6)
The word Totafot is written in the Torah three times. Rabbi Yishmael says that these three times in the torah, including one of the times that the word has an extra Vav, teaches us that the Tefillin Shel Rosh has four boxes. Rabbi Akiva disagrees by saying that we don’t need such a farfetched discussion. Instead he says that the word totafot itself is a combination word meaning two plus two in two different languages. Tat is two in Katfi and fot is two in African, equaling four. (Sanhedrin 4b)
Rabbi Simone says that if you have performed many batches of misdeeds, you should perform many mitzvoth in comparison. If you had haughty eyes (mishley 6) you should put tefillin on your forhead between your eyes. If you had a lying tongue you should teach torah to your children to make up for this. If your heart has been busy plotting evil you should meditate on the words of Torah – vehayu hadvarim haeleh.
All of the nations of the world will see that the name of G-d is on you. (Devarim 28-10) Rabbi Eliezer the Great says that this refers to Tefillin on the head – Tefillin Shel Rosh, since they are called glory – pe’er. Rabbi Eliezer adds that one doesn’t really need to wear the Tefillin (nowadays) because it is written, To bring for the mourners of Zion splendor instead of ashes. (Yishayahu 61 – 3) That is to say that since we are constantly mourning over the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash we have ashes on our heads until the days of salvation when Glorious Tefillin will return to our heads.
While carrying something on your head you need to remove the tefillin from your head. The most respectful thing to do with the Tefillin in these circumstances is to tie them to the arm next to the Tefillin Shel yad, since there is enough room for 2 pairs. (Eruvin 95)
People who are right handed wear Tefillin on the left hand. This is one of the only Mitzvot that one does with the left hand. Rabbi Natan says that the work of tying the Tefillin on is performed by the right hand which fastens them to the left. Left-handed people need to don Tefillin on their right arm. Interestingly enough it seems that when the Torah refers to a hand it means left when the Torah refers to the right hand it specifically says right. (Menachot 37) Ambidextrous people should wear tefillin on the left hand like most other people. However, if you write with your left hand than you are considered left handed and wear the tefillin on the right hand.
The Pasuk says: Write them on the Mezuzot – door posts of your home and your gates.
In Mishley it says: To hasten to my doors everyday, to the door posts of my entranceways. (Mishlay 8-34) Midrash Mishley states that you should be the first person in the synagogue thus walking by its mezuzah first. However, Rabbi Tanchum says to watch the mezuzot of the house means that you must put a mezuzah scroll up. Clearly Rabbi tanchum says that putting up a mezuzah is to watch your home. However, many people disagree with the concept stated by Rabbi Tanchum by saying that putting a Mezuzah up is a mitzvah and G-d watches over us, not the mezuzah.
The earlier verses of Shema Yisrael say, love Hashem with your whole heart and whole soul and whole might. The question is asked what is considered might. Rashi says “With all your might,” with all of your property. There are people whose property is dearer than their lives therefore the pasuk states with all your might to include your property. Ibn Shu’ib, who lived in 13th cent. Spain adds an interesting point. He say: This paragraph [of Shma Yisrael] needs to be written and posted to the door posts of ones home . This is because the home represents a persons property. Through posting the Mezuzah one follows the command to love G-d with all of his might.
Ibn Ezra says that if you take the Mitzvah of Tefillin to your heart you wont be destroyed in the land instead you will have long life like the heavens above the earth. (devarim 11-18)