Parshas Bo - Teffilin: Eternally Yours
וְהָיָה֩ לְךָ֨ לְא֜וֹת עַל־יָֽדְךָ֗ וּלְזִכָּרוֹן֙ בֵּ֣ין עֵינֶ֔יךָ לְמַ֗עַן תִּֽהְיֶ֛ה תּוֹרַ֥ת יְהֹוָ֖ה בְּפִ֑יךָ כִּ֚י בְּיָ֣ד חֲזָקָ֔ה הוֹצִֽאֲךָ֥ יְהֹוָ֖ה מִמִּצְרָֽיִם:
"And it shall be to you as a sign upon your hand and as a remembrance between your eyes, in order that the law of the Lord shall be in your mouth, for with a mighty hand the Lord took you out of Egypt." (Shemos 13:9)
וְהָיָ֤ה לְאוֹת֙ עַל־יָ֣דְכָ֔ה וּלְטֽוֹטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֣ין עֵינֶ֑יךָ כִּ֚י בְּחֹ֣זֶק יָ֔ד הֽוֹצִיאָ֥נוּ יְהֹוָ֖ה מִמִּצְרָֽיִם
"And it shall be for a sign upon your hand and for ornaments between your eyes, for with a mighty hand did the Lord take us out of Egypt" (Shemos 13:16)
There are four passages in the Torah that deal with the Mitzvah of wearing Teffilin. Two are in our parsha ("Kadesh" - 13:1-10 and "Vehaya ki veviakha" - 13:11-16) and two are found in Sefer Devarim ("Shema" 6:4-9 and "Vehaya im shamoa" - 11:13-22). Each of these four parshiyos are contained within our Teffilin. The Torah makes it clear that the Mitzvah of wearing Teffilin is intrinsically connected to Yetzias Mitzrayim.
The question we will deal with this in this article is, how are Teffilin a sign and a remembrance of our exodus from Egypt?
Furthermore, the Gemara in Kiddushin (35a) teaches that Teffilin are equivalent to the entire Torah as Chazal state:
והיה לך לאות על ידך ולזכרון בין עיניך למען תהיה תורת ה‘ בפיך, הוקשה כל התורה כולה לתפילין
“[These words] must be a sign on your arm and a reminder in the center of your head in order that God’s Torah will then be on your tongue.” [From here we see that] the mitzvah of tefillin is comparable to the entire Torah.
What is it about Teffilin that make them comparable to the entire Torah?
The Zohar states that Hashem, the Torah and Klal Yisrael are one. What exactly does the Zohar mean?
The Gemara in Berachos (7a) explains that there are five categories of Jews:
1. Tzaddik ViTov Lo, a righteous man who prospers, (materially as well as spiritually)
2. Tzaddik ViRah Lo, a righteous man who suffers, (in both a material as well as spiritual sense: spiritually, he has not yet vanquished all his evil, and in the material sense too he is wanting)
3. Rashi ViTov Lo, a wicked man (in whom there is some good and who prospers)
4. Rasha ViRah Lo, a wicked man who suffers (spiritually and materially)
5. Beinoni, intermediate man
What is the difference between the Tzaddik ViTov Lo and the Tzaddik ViRah Lo? Between the Rashi Vitov Lo and the Rasha Virah Lo?
The Gemara explains that the Tzaddik ViTov Lo, a righteous man who prospers, is the complete Tzaddik and therefore physical suffering which cleanses the soul from sin is unnecessary. The Tzaddik ViTov Lo therefore prospers in this world both spiritually and materially as well.
The Tzaddik Virah Lo is an incomplete Tzaddik and therefore he must experience some measure of suffering in this world to cleanse his soul from sin. In this way the incomplete Tzaddik does not need to endure any spiritual suffering in the World to Come.
In order to understand this a brief introduction is in order. Most people think of themselves as one person with different inclinations. The Yetzer Hora is our inclination for evil and the Yetzer Tov is the inclination for good. In Tanya, the Alter Rebbe teaches us that in truth we don't merey have two inclinations but two totally different souls as indicated in the passuk in Yeshayahu (57:16) ונשמות אני עשיתי, and souls I have made. Though the passuk is referring to one Jew it still uses the plural "souls" to indicate that we all have two souls. The two souls are known as the "animal soul" and the "Godly soul". The animal soul is that soul that sustains life and is responsible for all of our negative character traits. The Godly soul is, to quote the Alter Rebbe (chap. 2), "truly a part of God" in that the Jew is rooted in G‑d’s innermost and essential being (just as a son is rooted in the innermost being of the father).
The animal soul and the Godly soul are at war with one another, each one desiring a complete victory over the body. When the Godly soul is victorious it banishes the animal soul from its place in the body and vice versa.
With this in mind we are ready to understand the difference between the complete and the incomplete Tzaddik.
The Alter Rebbe in Tanya (chap.1) quotes the Zohar (Zohar II, 117b) who explains that the Tzaddik Vi Rah Lo, is someone whose evil nature is subservient to his good nature. The evil that inheres in the animal soul is totally under the control of the Godly soul. Thus the words rah lo have a double connotation. Not only do they indicate that he is a righteous man who suffers but they also indicate that “evil belongs to him” (i.e. he is master of the evil nature in him). The difference between the complete tzaddik and the incomplete Tzaddik is that the complete Tzaddik has no evil in him whatsoever (having already transformed it to good) where the incomplete Tzaddik still retains some vestige of evil (though it is totally subservient to the good).
In contrast to the complete and incomplete Tzaddik we have the Rasha ViTov Lo, a wicked man who prospers and the Rashi Virah Lo, a wicked man who suffers. The Alter Rebbe explains (chap. 11) that here too the difference is not merely that one man prospers while the other suffers but their material state is a function of there inner spiritual state.
The Rasha ViTov Lo stands opposite the Tzaddik Virah Lo. The incomplete Tzaddik retains some evil of the animal soul which is subservient to the good of the Godly soul and in contrast the incomplete Rasha retains some good which is overwhelmed by the evil of the animal. Just as there are many degrees of a Tzaddik ViRah Lo with respect to how much the evil has been nullified so too there are many degrees of a Rashi ViTov Lo. Some Reshaim will only do minor aveiros infrequently and afterwards will be filled with remorse leading him to Teshuva whereas others will commit more serious offenses with greater frequency.
The difference between the Rashi ViTov Lo (incomplete Rasha) and the Rasha ViRah Lo (complete Rasha) is that the Rashi ViRah Lo never regrets the sins he has committed. Just as the complete Tzaddik has wiped out all of the evil of the animal soul, the complete Rasha has wiped out all of the goodness of the Godly soul.
But can someone truly wipe out their Godly soul? The Alter Rebbe explains that the Rashi ViRah Lo, the complete Rasha, has no conscious awareness of his Godly soul. It hovers above him in an external fashion but of course it is still a presence in his life. This explains the Gemara in Sanhedrin (39a) which states that any time ten Jews gather together the Shechinah (Divine Presence) is found. Even when ten complete reshaim are in one place the Shechinah is present. Though he is not conscious of it, the Godly soul continues to be a presence in even the most wicked people.
What is truly revolutionary about the Alter Rebbe's approach to our humanity is that we are given real clarity as to our fundamental nature. If we are one soul with multiple inclinations then we can never be assured of our innate Godliness. We are defined completely by our actions. When we act in a Godly fashion we are Godly. If we act wickedly then we are wicked. If we are two souls then no matter how far we fall our innate Godliness remains intact. While the evil in our animal soul can be transformed to good, our Godly soul can at most become a makkif (a surrounding influence). The difference between the complete Tzaddik and the complete Rasha is not how Godly they are, for they are equally Godly. The only question is how much their Godliness is revealed. For the righteous their Godly soul is apparent in their lives, while for the wicked the Godly soul is more concealed.
The idea of our inherent Godliness is spelled out even more clearly later in Tanya (chap. 18 and 19) where the Alter Rebbe discusses the natural love of God that lies hidden in the heart of every Jew. This love is not acquired through meditation and contemplation of the infinite nature of God but rather is an inheritance from our forefathers.
The notion of inheriting love is indeed a difficult one. While we can certainly understand how we inherit money or possessions or even the character traits of our parents, how can someone inherit love of a specific person? In other words, if our parents are loving people it is understandable that they will have loving children. Genetics, however, would not dictate that children love the same people as their parents. For example, my fathers best friends are Hyman and Toby. I love Hyman and Toby and have referred to them as my uncle and aunt since I was a little boy. I do not love Hyman and Toby because of a genetic predisposition but because I have chosen to love them. While the character trait of love is an inheritance I have received from my father, loving his best friends is a choice and could not be accurately described as a yerusha. Similarly, the notion of loving God as an inheritance from our Avos HaKedoshim is problematic. The Gemara in Yevamos (89a) says that Klal Yisrael are naturally rachmanim, merciful; bayshanim, have a sense of shame; and gomlei chasadim, perform acts of kindness. These are character traits we naturally inherit as Jews. To say that we love God specifically because of an inheritance? We love God because we have thought deeply about His infinite nature and have chosen to love Him.
To answer this question, the Alter Rebbe says that the Avos did not merely serve God but were His Merkavah, His chariot. Just as a chariot has no will of its own but is totally directed by the rider, so too the Avos had no will of their own and were totally directed by the Divine Will of God. In other words, the love that the Avos had for God was not a function of an intellectual choice (perhaps it began that way) but rather was a function of their essence. And just as the essence of the parents are passed down to their children, so too is the essence of Avos inherited by their progeny. It is therefore understandable how we, as the children of the Avos, were able to inherit their essential love of God.
The way of the Baal Shem Tov and his talmidim was to love even the least observant Jews. This is in line with the Gemara in Sanhedrin (41a) which states that even though we may sin we remain Jews. Someone who doubts this truth does not just doubt the words of Chazal but fails to understand the fundamental nature of the way that our Avos served God. Returning to the Zohar above we can now understand that the relationship between Klal Yisrael and Hashem is truly one. We are, as the passuk in Iyov (31:2) says, a part of God. Our souls are like rays of the sun. Our existence is completely dependent on God. Our Godliness can be more revealed or less so but it is assured. It is an inheritance from our Avos HaKedoshim. No matter how far we have fallen our connection with Hashem remains extant for we are truly one.
With this in mind we can understand the inner essence of the Mitzvah of Teffilin.
The Gemara in Brachos (6a) tells us that not only do we Teffilin but Hashem wears Teffilin as well. In God's Teffilin it is written, וּמִי֙ כְּעַמְּךָ֣ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל גּ֥וֹי אֶחָ֖ד בָּאָ֑רֶץ, And who is like Your people Israel, one nation in the world (Divrei HaYamim 1 17:21). In our teffilin it is written שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהֹוָ֥ה | אֶחָֽד, Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one (Devarim 6:4). The commonality between our Teffilin and God's Teffilin is the word echad. We are God's one nation. He is our one God. The bond between us is essential. We are one with God and He is one with us.
This explains why the Mitzvah described as binding as the passuk in Devarim (6:8) says: וּקְשַׁרְתָּ֥ם לְא֖וֹת עַל־יָדֶ֑ךָ וְהָי֥וּ לְטֹֽטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֥ין עֵינֶֽיךָ, And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes. In binding the Teffilin to our bodies we see ourselves as inextricably connected with Hashem.
The Gemara in Menachos (35b) teaches that Teffilin act as a testimony that the Shechinah resides with Klal Yisrael. The Shelah Hakadosh (Mitzvas Teffilin) states as follows: After the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash the Shechina continues to reside on the Jewish people in merit of the Tefillin. This is based on the Zohar (Chayei Sarah 129a) which states that through wearing the Tefillin one fulfills the verse of “Make for me a Mikdash and I will dwell within them.” Even though we have sinned and our Godly souls may not be revealed, Teffilin testify that our connection with God remains intact.
After the sin of the golden calf, Moshe Rabeinu asked Hashem, וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הַרְאֵ֥נִי נָ֖א אֶת־כְּבֹדֶֽךָ, And he said: "Show me, now, Your glory!" (Shemos 33:18). Hashem responded by saying:
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהֹוָ֔ה הִנֵּ֥ה מָק֖וֹם אִתִּ֑י וְנִצַּבְתָּ֖ עַל־הַצּֽוּר: וְהָיָה֙ בַּֽעֲבֹ֣ר כְּבֹדִ֔י וְשַׂמְתִּ֖יךָ בְּנִקְרַ֣ת הַצּ֑וּר וְשַׂכֹּתִ֥י כַפִּ֛י עָלֶ֖יךָ עַד־עָבְרִֽי: וַֽהֲסִֽרֹתִי֙ אֶת־כַּפִּ֔י וְרָאִ֖יתָ אֶת־אֲחֹרָ֑י וּפָנַ֖י לֹ֥א יֵֽרָאֽוּ:
"And the Lord said: "Behold, there is a place with Me, and you shall stand on the rock. And it shall be that when My glory passes by, I will place you into the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove My hand, and you will see My back but My face shall not be seen." (Shemos 33:21,22,23)
But what exactly will Moshe Rabbeinu see when he sees God's back?
The Gemara in Berachos (7a) explains that Moshe would see the knot of the Teffilin shel Rosh. Why does God specifically show Moshe the knot of His Teffilin? In showing Moshe the knot of His Teffilin God is communicating to Moshe that despite the treachery of the sin of the golden calf He remains tied to Klal Yisrael. Just as a son always remains a son despite his estrangement from his father, so too are we totally knotted up with God.
This explains the Minhag to say the passuk in Hosea (2:19) as we perform the Mitzvah of Teffilin.
וְאֵֽרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִ֖י לְעוֹלָ֑ם וְאֵֽרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִי֙ בְּצֶ֣דֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּ֔ט וּבְחֶ֖סֶד וּבְרַֽחֲמִֽים:
And I will betroth you to Me forever, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, and with justice, and with loving-kindness, and with mercy. And I will betroth you to Me with faith, and you shall know the Lord.
As we lay our Teffilin in the morning we must become conscious of the essential nature of our relationship with God. Our betrothal to God is forever. There is nothing we can do to sever the bond we have with God.
The Security and Power of Teffilin
The pasuk in Meggilas Esther (8:16) says, לַיְּהוּדִ֕ים הָֽיְתָ֥ה אוֹרָ֖ה וְשִׂמְחָ֑ה וְשָׂשׂ֖ן וִיקָֽר, The Jews had light and joy, and gladness and honor. The Gemara in Meggilah (16b) explains:
ויקר אלו תפלין וכן הוא אומר (דברים כח, י) וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם ה' נקרא עליך ויראו ממך ותניא רבי אליעזר הגדול אומר אלו תפלין שבראש
“Honor”; this is referring to phylacteries, which they once again donned. And similarly it says: “And all peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord; and they will be afraid of you” (Deuteronomy 28:10). And it was taught in a baraita: Rabbi Eliezer the Great said: This is referring to the phylacteries worn on the head.
One of Haman's evil decrees was that Jews were not allowed to wear Teffilin. After the miraculous redemption of Purim, we were once again allowed to wear our Teffilin freely. Why was Haman specifically against the Mitzvah of Teffilin? Additionally, what is it about Teffilin that the nations of the world will fear us (see also Menachos 35b)?
Finally, Chazal tell us that Mordechai walked around wearing Teffilin all day. We also know that Mordechai would deliberately place himself in Haman's path and would refuse to bow down to him. It seems that not only was Mordechai refusing to bow down to Haman, he was also taunting him by wearing Teffilin. What message was Mordechai sending to Haman in refusing to stop wearing Teffilin?
There have been other times in history in which the Mitzvah of Teffilin has been banned. The Gemara in Shabbos (49a) tells us the the story of Elisha Baal Kenafayim, Elisha who had wings. He was so named on account of the following incident. The Roman government issued a decree banning people from wearing Tefillin shel Rosh. Those caught wearing Tefillin would be killed by having their head pierced! Elisha refused to stop wearing Teffilin and defiantly wore his Tefillin in public. A Roman official had spotted him and began to chase after Elisha. As the official caught up to him, Elisha took off the Tefillin from his head and covered them in his hands. The official asked him “what is in your hands?” Elisha responded "the wings of a dove. Miraculously, when Elisha opened his hands instead of Teffilin there were wings of a dove. This is how Elisha received the name Elisha Baal Kenafayim, Elisha who had wings.
Why did the Roman government ban the wearing of Teffilin? Why specifically the Teffilin shel Rosh (see also Shabbos 130 where the Gemara repeats the story and indicates that it was specifically the Teffilin shel Rosh that were banned)? Why was Elisha confident that his Teffilin would turn into wings of a dove?
The Medrash in Shir HaShirim Rabbah (Aleph) tells us that Klal Yisrael and Hashem are compared to doves. What is unique about doves is that they have one mate for life. Just a doves have one spouse, so too our relationship with Hashem is absolutely exclusive.
How does this knowledge help us serve Hashem?
There are two ways of being in a relationship. In an insecure relationship one person may serve the other in an effort to earn their love. From the outside the service may seem incredible as a husband, for example, devotes his entire lives to his wife. Internally, the husband is fraught with fear and anxiety. What happens if my service is not enough? What happens if we have a fight? What happens if she doesn't love me in return? Ultimately such a system is unsustainable. As the emotions overwhelm the husband, he will be unable to continue to remain devoted to his wife. And even if somehow the husband is able to maintain his devotion, his service will leave him absolutely and utterly drained. Rather than being a invigorating experience, the relationship leaves him feeling beaten down.
In a secure relationship the husband does not need to earn his wife's love. He knows that she is completely committed to the marriage and therefore his devotion comes from a deep place of love. This allows the husband to be truly engaged with his wife as he experiences none of the anxieties mentioned above. Some may argue that secure in his wife's commitment the husband may not be as devoted but in fact the opposite is true. When the husband serves his wife from a place of insecurity he is not actually devoted to her but to himself. The goal of the husband's service is for him to feel secure. The wife is merely a byproduct. When there is safety and security in the relationship, the husband is actually to devoted to his wife. Since his desire to be in the relationship is already assured, he is not focused on earning her love. As such, he is truly focused on her needs.
Teffilin assure us that our relationship with Hashem is eternal. As such we have no need to serve Hashem from a place of anxiety. In this way we can be absolutely devoted to serving God.
If you examine the Teffilin Shel Rosh you will notice that the letter Shin appears in two forms. On the left side of the Teffilin the letter Shin has four splays while on the right side is the standard three splayed Shin. Nowhere else do we find a Shin made up of four splays. What is the significance of this unique Shin?
The Teffilin Shel Rosh are like the Luchos that were given to Moshe at Har Sinai. On those luchos the letters were not merely written on the stone but were engraved into the stone itself. The Shin of the Luchos, for example, can therefore be seen as three splayed and four splayed. 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. Just as the letters on the luchos were engraved and therefore eternal (writing can be erased, engravings cannot) so too is our relationship with God eternal. The three splayed Shin represents the three Avos, whereas the four splayed Shin represents the four Imahos. Just as our relationship with our parents is unbreakable, so too is our relationship with God.
This explains the custom to say the following paragraph before putting on Teffilin: Behold, when I put on tefillin I intend to fulfill the commandment of my Creator, Who has commanded us to put on tefillin … and to place them on the arm to recall the “outstretched arm” [of the Exodus] and that it be opposite the heart, thereby to subjugate the desires and the thoughts of our heart to His service, may His Name be blessed; and upon the head opposite the brain, so that the soul that is within my brain, together with my other senses and abilities, may all be subjugated to His service…
The straps we wrap on our arms restrict our movements. We are not free to do whatever we wish with our lives. We are bound to a mission that is larger than ourselves and we must act in consonance with that mission.
The Teffilin Shel Yad is placed across from the heart. A Godly life in one which not only our actions but even our emotions are devoted to God. We are instructed to love our fellow Jew as we love ourselves. It is prohibited to hate our brother in our heart and to bear grudges. Far from today's secular society that tells us that we have no control over our emotions, a Jew is empowered by the belief that he is capable and thus responsible for controlling his feelings.
The Teffilin Shel Rosh sit upon our head, the seat of our minds. The Torah tells us that the Teffilin Shel Rosh are placed between the eyes (upon the head) because the way we think impacts the way we see the world. Teffilin obligate us to be conscious of our Godly mission in this world. A godly vision sees the world as not yet rectified but ripe for repair. A godly vision obligates us to see those that are less fortunate and reach out in kindness and in love. A godly vision of this world obligates us to use our minds, our greatest gift, for the sake of getting to know God.
Armed with the knowledge that we are in a secure relationship with God we are ready willing and able to make exactly these sacrifices. The way we think, feel and act are surrendered to our Godly mission in this world.
While wearing Teffilin we are assured of a total submission to God, as the Rambam says in Hilchos Stam (4:25):
קדושת תפילין קדושתן גדולה היא שכל זמן שהתפילין בראשו של אדם ועל זרועו הוא עניו וירא שמים ואינו נמשך בשחוק ובשיחה בטילה ואינו מהרהר מחשבות רעות אלא מפנה לבו בדברי האמת והצדק
The holiness associated with tefillin is very great. As long as a person is wearing tefillin on his head and arm, he will be humble and God-fearing and will not be drawn to frivolous behavior or empty speech. He will not turn his thoughts to evil matters, but rather will direct his heart to words of truth and justice.
This is underscored by the Gemara in Brachos (30b) which teaches:
מַאי ״וְגִילוּ בִּרְעָדָה״? אָמַר רַב אַדָּא בַּר מַתְנָא אָמַר רַבָּה: בִּמְקוֹם גִּילָה שָׁם תְּהֵא רְעָדָה. אַבָּיֵי הֲוָה יָתֵיב קַמֵּיהּ דְּרַבָּה חַזְיֵיהּ דַּהֲוָה קָא בָדַח טוּבָא. אֲמַר ״וְגִילוּ בִּרְעָדָה״ כְּתִיב! אֲמַר לֵיהּ: אֲנָא תְּפִילִּין מַנַּחְנָא.
What is the meaning of rejoice with trembling? Rav Adda bar Mattana said that Rabba said: One may not experience unbridled joy; even where there is rejoicing, there should be trembling. On that note, the Gemara relates: Abaye was sitting before his teacher Rabba, and Rabba saw that he was excessively joyful. He said to Abaye: It is written: Rejoice with trembling, one’s joy should not be unrestrained. Abaye said to him: It is permissible for me because I am donning phylacteries now and as long as they are upon me they ensure that the fear of God is upon me.
As long as Abaye was wearing Teffilin, conscious of our essential relationship with Hashem, he was unconcerned that he would experience unbridled and frivolous joy.
When a person lives with the security that their relationship with God is unconditional, their entire lives are secured.
The Medrash in Bamidbar Rabbah (12:3) teach that Teffilin are a divine protection:
יפול מצדך וגו‘ רב יצחק אמר היד שהיא שולטת על מצוה אחת זו מצות תפילין כתיב בה יפול מצדך אלף שנמסר לה אלף מלאכים לשומרו
It is written (Tehillim 91:7), “A thousand shall fall at your side … it shall not come near you.” Through the mitzvah of tefillin one is guarded from evil by a thousand angels.
The Gemara in Taanis (20b) relates that the students of Rav Ada ben Ahavah asked him why he was worthy of such a long life. Among the many reasons he gave was that he didn't walk four amos without wearing Teffilin.
In contrast, the Gemara in Sotah (44b) quotes a Beraisa which teaches that if one spoke between donning their Teffilin Shel Rosh and their Shel Yad, he is sent home and is not allowed to wage war. Such a soldier does not live with the idea of an unbroken connection with God and therefore his security as a soldier is in doubt.
This explains why the Semag (Mitzvah 3) says that the wicked need teffilin more than the righteous. The righteous know that their relationship with God is secure. For them Teffilin merely serves as a reminder of this idea. For the wicked, their many sins may lead them to the mistaken belief that their relationship with God is beyond repair. In wearing Teffilin, the wicked are reminded of the essential nature of their relationship with God and are empowered to return to His service.
This is line with the Siddur Otzar HaTeffilos who says that Teffilin protect us from assimilation while in exile.
והזמן אשר בו החלו הטוטפות להקרא בשם תפילין לא נודע לנו בבירור... הקדמון היותר עתיק אשר הזכירם בשם תפילין הוא שמאי הזקן במכילתא בא סו“פ י“ז שמאי הזקן אומר אלו תפילין של בית אבי אמא... אבל בירושלמי עירובין פ“י ה“א הגי‘ הלל הזקן אומר אלו של בית אבי אמא... הזקנים האלו היו בערך מאה שנה לפני החרבן וההשערה הישרה אומרת שבכר איזה דורות לפניהם החלו להקרא בשם הזה.
I do not know with certainty when they began to call totafot by the name tefillin … The first person to call them by that name was Shamai the Elder in the Mechilta (Parshat Bo, end of Ch. 17). “Shammai said these are the tefillin of my mother’s father…” But in the Talmud Yerushalmi it says that it was Hillel who said, “These are the tefillin of my mother’s father” (Eruvin 10:1). These Sages lived approximately one hundred years before the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.) and it is reasonable to assume that this name had already been in use in the generations preceding them.
ונראה שהשם תפילין נתחדש בימי גלות בבל שרשו תָ פֵ ל שענינו חבור ודבוק חזק... וקריאת שם זה היא כעין נתינת טעם למצות הטוטפות כי אות הם לנושאיהם שהם נבדלים מכל העמים ודבקים בהקב“ה... וטעם חדוש זה בגלות בכל כדי יהזכיר תמיד את העם חובתם ושעבודם לאביהם שבשמים לשמרם מן הטמיעה וההתבוללות בקרב אויביהם השליטים.
It seems that the name tefillin was created during the Babylonian exile from the root tafel which means connection or strong attachment … Calling them by this name was a manner of giving a rationale for the mitzvah of totafot: that they serve as a sign to those who wear them that they are separate from all other nations and are attached to God … The reason for this innovation during exile was in order to constantly remind the people of their obligations and servitude to their Father in Heaven and to remove any confusion of values and assimilation within the dominant culture.
The name Teffilin reminds the wicked of who we truly are. A nation unlike any other, atached completely to God. In this way we come to serve God in our uniquely Jewish fashion unspoiled by an alien culture.
We also see the notion that Teffilin returns to our source in the Gemara in Kiddushin (37b):
והשתא דאמרת: חובת הגוף נוהגת בין בא“י בין בח“ל... ביאה דכתב רחמנא גבי תפילין ופטר חמור למה לי (כיון דחובת הגוף היא פשיטא דנוהגת בכל מושבות—רש“י)? ההוא מיבעי ליה לכדתנא דבי ר‘ ישמעאל עשה מצוה זו שבשבילה תיכנס לארץ.
Now that you have stated that any mitzvah incumbent on the individual must be observed whether in the Land of Israel or outside the Land … why then does the Torah mention “coming into Israel” with regard to tefillin and [the mitzvah of redeeming] the first born donkey (since they are performed with the body they are obviously observed in all locations – Rashi)? As Rabbi Yishmael taught: Do these mitzvot in order that you [will merit] to enter the Land of Israel.
With this is mind we can understand why Haman and the Roman government sought to abolish the Mitzvah of Teffiin and why Mordechai and Elisha Baal HaKenafayim continued to flaunt their observance of this precious Mitzvah. Those that seek to destroy Klal Yisrael must attack our very essence. The foundation of every relationship is safety. Without the Mitzvah of Teffilin we could chas vishalom forget that we are eternally tied to God.
This is line with the Gemara in Shabbos (12a) which teaches that a person is obligated to consistently touch their Teffilin while they are wearing them.
תני דבי רבי ישמעאל יוצא אדם בתפילין בערב שבת עם חשיכה מאי טעמא כיון דאמר רבה בר רב הונא חייב אדם למשמש בתפילין כל שעה ושעה קל וחמר מציץ מה ציץ שאין בו אלא אזכרה אחת אמרה תורה והיה על מצחו תמיד שלא יסיח דעתו ממנו תפילין שיש בהן אזכרות הרבה על אחת כמה וכמה הלכך מידכר דכיר להו
The Sage of the school of Rabbi Yishmael taught in a baraita: A person may go out ab initio donning phylacteries on Shabbat eve at nightfall. Although one does not don phylacteries on Shabbat and going out donning them involves an element of carrying, there is no concern lest he forget and remove them on Shabbat. What is the reason for this? Because Rabba bar Rav Huna said: A person is obligated to touch his phylacteries at all times that he is donning them. This is derived from an a fortiori inference [kal vaḥomer] from the frontplate [tzitz] of the High Priest. Just as with regard to the frontplate, which has only one mention of God’s name, the Torah said: “And it should be always upon his forehead” (Exodus 28:38), which means that the High Priest must always be aware that the tzitz is placed on his head and that he should not be distracted from it; phylacteries that have numerous mentions of God’s name, all the more so one should always be aware of them. Therefore, he remembers that the phylacteries are on his head and is not likely to come to carry them on Shabbat.
By touching our Teffilin we are reminded of their presence and the message of safety and security in our relationship with Hashem that they represent.
Mordechai and Elisha Baal HaKenafayim waged war by fearlessly displaying their essential connection with Hashem. It is now clear why it is specifically the Teffilin Shel Rosh that transformed into a dove. The Teffilin Shel Rosh represent the Godly consciousness and the way we see the world. The most important thing a Jew can know is that we are like doves. We will be connected with Hashem forever.
Confronting the World With Teffilin
With the above in mind we can explain why we have an oral tradition (Semag, Mitzvah 22) that tells us to form the Teffilin in a way that spells out Shadai (one of the names of God). The Shin embossed on the Teffilin Shel Rosh, the knot in the Teffilin Shel Rosh is in the shape of a dalet and the knot on the Teffiln Shel Yad is in the shape of a Yud. In this way the name of God “Shadai” is formed.
What is the inner meaning of the name Shadai?
The Gemara in Chaggigah (12a) teaches:
ואמר רב יהודה אמר רב בשעה שברא הקב"ה את העולם היה מרחיב והולך כשתי פקעיות של שתי עד שגער בו הקב"ה והעמידו שנאמר עמודי שמים ירופפו ויתמהו מגערתו והיינו דאמר ר"ל מאי דכתיב (בראשית לה, יא) אני אל שדי אני הוא שאמרתי לעולם די אמר ר"ל בשעה שברא הקב"ה את הים היה מרחיב והולך עד שגער בו הקב"ה ויבשו שנאמר (נחום א, ד) גוער בים ויבשהו וכל הנהרות החריב
And Rav Yehuda said that Rav said, with regard to the same matter: When the Holy One, Blessed be He, created the world, it continued to expand like two balls of a warp, whose cord lengthens as they unravel, until the Holy One, Blessed be He, rebuked it and made it stand still, as it is stated: “The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at His rebuke” (Job 26:11). And this is the same as that which Reish Lakish said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “I am the Almighty God [El Shaddai]” (Genesis 17:1)? It means: I am He Who said to the world “enough [dai],” instructing it to stop expanding. Similarly, Reish Lakish said: When the Holy One, Blessed be He, created the sea, it continued to expand until the Holy One, Blessed be He, rebuked it and made it dry, as it is stated: “He rebukes the sea and makes it dry, and desiccates all the rivers” (Nahum 1:4). (see also Bereshis Rabbah 5:8, where Shaddai stops the world from expanding and Bereishis Rabbah 46:3 where Shadai limits the earth and heavens.)
In summation, the name Shadai means enough, as in God said to the world that it should stop expanding. Similarly we find that the Gemara in Succah (53 a,b) teaches that when Dovid HaMelech was digging the drainpipes for the foundation of the Beis HaMikdash, the waters of the depths of the earth began to rise and threatened to flood the world. In order to make the waters subside (after discussing the matter with Achitofel) Dovid wrote the name Shadai on a piece of pottery and cast it into the depths which made the waters subside. When the waters subsided too much he said the fifteen songs of ascent (Shir HaMaalos) found in Tehillim.
The significance of the name Shadai is that it keeps the world in perfect balance. If the world expands too much God's presence will be impossible to experience. Too little and we will be overwhelmed by God's presence. In order for us to have free will to choose we need to live in the perfect balance. When Dovid HaMelech dug the foundation of the Beis HaMikdash, God's presence was to become so manifest that it threatened our existence. Just as God employed the name Shaddai to ensure a balanced world so too did Dovid HaMelech.
The challenge of our world is that we can choose to lead a Godly life or chas vishalom the opposite. God is hidden so that making the choice to lead a Godly life is meaningful. When God's presence is so manifest we become like angels who lack the capacity to choose anything other than God. In forming the Teffilin so that they spell out the name Shadai, we remember that the world is exactly as it is meant to be. We have the option to lead a life devoid of Godliness but that is only so that our choice to devote ourselves to God is meaningful. Armed with the knowledge that our relationship with Hashem is secure, we can devote ourselves to finding God in the darkness. Because Shaddai is the name that created the balance, it is the perfect symbolism to express our devotion to God in this world.
Furthermore, when one wears Teffilin they become cognizant of the belief that they are "enough." We are enough for God and therefore we can be enough for ourselves. Knowing that we are enough for God means that we do not need to "earn" God's love. This frees us from our anxieties and fears and allows us to actually serve God. Just as God said the world was "enough" with the name Shadai, so too with the name Shadai embedded in our Teffilin we know we are enough for God.
Teffilin in Mitzrayim
With this in mind we are now ready to understand why Tefillin are equated to the entire
Torah. As we said above, the foundation of every relationship is safety. Without security in a relationship our devotion is actually inwardly focused, so that we may obtain the love of our spouse. When a Jew wears Teffilin, we are tied up with God. It is the ultimate act of intimacy (ie. oneness) and gives us the safety to fulfill the rest of the Torah. As the Zohar says, God, the Torah and Klal Yisrael are one. God weras Teffilin expressing his eternal connection with us. In wearing Teffilin we affirm this oneness.
In Mitzrayim, Klal Yisrael had fallen to the 49th level of tumah (Zohar Chadash Yisro 31a).
The Navi Yechezkel (208) describes Klal Yisrael in Mitzrayim as a people that could not throw away their idols:
וַיַּמְרוּ־בִ֗י וְלֹ֚א אָבוּ֙ לִשְׁמֹ֣עַ אֵלַ֔י אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־שִׁקּוּצֵ֚י עֵֽינֵיהֶם֙ לֹ֣א הִשְׁלִ֔יכוּ וְאֶת־גִּלּוּלֵ֥י מִצְרַ֖יִם לֹ֣א עָזָ֑בוּ וָֽאֹמַ֞ר לִשְׁפֹּ֧ךְ חֲמָתִ֣י עֲלֵיהֶ֗ם לְכַלּ֚וֹת אַפִּי֙ בָּהֶ֔ם בְּת֖וֹךְ אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם:
But they rebelled against Me and would not consent to hearken to Me; they did not cast away, every man, the despicable idols from before their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt; and I said to pour out My wrath over them, to give My anger full rein over them, in the midst of the land of Egypt.
Similarly, in Tehillim (78:10) it says לֹ֣א שָֽׁ֖מְרוּ בְּרִ֣ית אֱלֹהִ֑ים וּ֜בְתֽוֹרָת֗וֹ מֵֽאֲנ֥וּ לָלֶֽכֶת, They did not keep the covenant of God, and they refused to follow His Torah. Chazal explain this to mean that in Mitzrayim Klal Yisrael did not even observe the Mitzvah of Bris Milah. (The Beis Halevi suggests that they did circumcise, but stretched the skin out again so that they would look like the Egyptians.)
Clearly we were on an exceptionally low level in Mitzrayim and yet it is exactly at this time that we are gifted with the Mitvah of Teffilin. As we are in the final stages of our exodus God instructs us in the Mitzah of Teffilin so that we may remember Mitzrayim. Why would we want to remember such a tragic time in our history? Teffilin reminds us that even in our lowest moments in history, God lovingly takes us out of Mitzrayim and draws us close to him. Not because of the Mitzvos we do but simply because. Just as a parent loves their child not because of what they will do for them but for no reason at all. In the space of this warmth and security, the child returns the parents love. I can think of no more beautiful way for a Jew to see the world then through the lens of the Mitzvah of Teffilin.