Shiur #48: The Yoke of Mitzvot The Mitzva of Tefillin (Part II)

  • Harav Baruch Gigi
I. The Connection Between the Mitzva of Tefillin and Living in Eretz Israel
As we have seen in the previous shiur, the connection between the mitzva of tefillin and mundane, earthly life is reflected in the halakhic requirement that the tefillin be made from "what is permitted in your mouth," which is derived from the verse, "that the law of the Lord be in your mouth." This connection is reinforced by the relationship that the Torah creates between this mitzva and the people of Israel's living in Eretz Yisrael.
The two passages in Shemot chapter 13 in which the mitzva of tefillin is mentioned, "Kadesh" and "Vehaya ki yevi'akha" (which are thus included among the parashiyot found in our tefillin), mention this mitzva within the general framework of the people of Israel's arrival in their land (see verses 5 and 11). In the wake of this, Chazal expound:
What is the purpose of "coming" that is written in the Torah in connection with tefillin and the firstborn of an ass? That is needed for what the school of R. Yishmael taught: Perform this precept, for you shall enter the land on its account. (Kiddushin 37b)
What is the connection between living in Eretz Yisrael and the mitzva of tefillin? We will discuss this issue in light of the words of R. Avraham Yitzchak Kook in his first exposition in praise of the mitzva of tefillin, in his book, "Chavash Pe'er."[1]
II. Strengthening the Body in Order to Serve God
Man is comprised of matter and spirit, body and soul. Built as he is, he continually moves back and forth between two conflicting desires. On the one hand, the body desires to live the life of this world with all of its pleasures and all of the creative and constructive tasks that are set before it. On the other hand, there is the desire of the soul, which was hewn from the Throne of Glory, to return to its source through the love and service of God in all expanses of the Torah and mitzvot.
Man's task in life is to impose the soul's desire on the desires of the body. This is done not only by giving preference to the affairs of the spirit over those of the body. It is also a person's duty to establish in his soul that the matters of the body come to serve his spiritual missions and wishes, to love God and to adhere to Him. He must use the powers of the body to increase his spiritual powers as well. As Chazal teach:
R. Yochanan said: The Holy One, blessed be He, rests his Shekhina only on one who is mighty and rich and wise and humble, and all of these [qualities are learned] from Moshe. (Nedarim 38a)
In other words, the ability to break out and grow spiritually requires physical and material strength.
This is also the position of the Rambam in two places:
It is [one] of the foundations of [our] faith that God conveys prophecy to man. Prophecy is bestowed only upon a very wise sage of a strong character, who is never overcome by his natural inclinations in any regard. Instead, with his mind, he overcomes his natural inclinations at all times. He must [also] possess a very broad and accurate mental capacity.
A person who is full of all these qualities and is physically sound [is fit for prophecy]. When he enters the Pardes and is drawn into these great and sublime concepts, if he possesses accurate mental capacity to comprehend and grasp [them], he will become holy. He will advance and separate himself from the masses who proceed in the darkness of the time. He must continue and diligently train himself not to have any thoughts whatsoever about fruitless things or the vanities and intrigues of the times.
Instead, his mind should constantly be directed upward, bound beneath [God's] throne [of Glory, striving] to comprehend the holy and pure forms and gazing at the wisdom of the Holy One, blessed be He, in its entirety, [in its manifold manifestations] from the most elevated [spiritual] form until the navel of the earth, appreciating His greatness from them. [After these preparations,] the divine spirit will immediately rest upon him.
When the spirit rests upon him, his soul becomes intermingled with the angels called ishim, and he will be transformed into a different person and will understand with a knowledge different from what it was previously. He will rise above the level of other wise men, as [the prophet, Shemuel] told Shaul [I Shemuel10:6]: "[The spirit of God will descend upon you] and you shall prophesy with them. And you will be transformed into a different person." (Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 7:1)
Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God, for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator, if he is ill… (Hilkhot De'ot 4:1)
Since the body and the soul work together in this world, and the body cannot survive without the soul and the soul cannot survive without the body, a person must preserve his bodily powers in order to strengthen his mental powers.
We must, however, read these two passages in the Rambam precisely. According to the Rambam, strengthening the body is important only if it is done in order to allow the powers of the soul to act and work. If a person strengthens his bodily powers in order to exhaust his bodily pleasures for their own sake, not only does he not build up the powers of his soul, but rather he weakens and suppresses them.
A person who follows his heart's desires and seeks every way to add to his pleasures through food and drink and other bodily lusts causes his soul as well to settle in the depths of existence. This is what the Torah warns us about in the mitzva to be holy, as it was understood by the Ramban in his commentary to the Torah:
A person with strong desire will find room to be immersed in lustful relations with his wife or his many wives, and to be among gluttons and drunkards, and he will speak obscenities as he pleases, as there is no mention of this being forbidden in the Torah. And he will be a degenerate within the confines of the Torah. Therefore, Scripture comes, after having spelled out the prohibitions that are absolutely forbidden, and commands in general terms that we must withdraw from excesses. One should restrict his sexual intercourse… and engage in intercourse only as is necessary to fulfill the mitzva. And one should sanctify himself from wine by drinking only the minimum, as the verse refers to the Nazirite as "holy" (Bamidbar 6:5). And one should remember the evil that follows from wine in the Torah in the cases of Noach and Lot… And one should also protect his mouth and tongue from being sullied with gluttonous eating and despicable speech, as it is mentioned in the verse: "And every mouth speaks wantonness" (Yeshaya 9:16). And one should sanctify himself in this way until he reaches the level of separation. As they said about R. Chiyya that he never spoke an idle word in his life… And the verse that states: "For I the Lord your God am holy" means to say that we will merit to adhere to Him since we are holy."[2] (Ramban, Vayikra 11:2)
This is what R. Kook says on the matter:
The matter is as follows: As long as the mind is weak and easily enticed by the vanities of the body, not to do them for the sake of the honorable objective, but only following one's inferior animal desire, then they are certainly evil, and blessed is he who separates himself from them. This is not the case when the mind is very strong to the point that it draws every bodily matter on the path of holiness, and if he broadens his heart, he will grow in the fear of God and his heart will be elevated in the Divine service, and if he is honored he will straighten the path of God for the masses, as his words will be heard. The man whose mind is so strong and brave to the point that he turns every bodily matter into good and blessing - whatever strength and bravery is added to his body, so too bravery and holiness will be added to his mind. (Chavash Pe'er, first exposition)
The mitzva of tefillin, binding the tefillin of the hand against the heart and the tefillin of the head against the mind, subjugates the centers of man's bodily powers to God's service.
Tefillin are the essence of God's Torah,[3] and they rest an abundance of sanctity and purity on the powers of the body, in order to direct them with great force to develop the powers of the soul.
III. Tefillin and the Blessing of Eretz Yisrael
Let us now examine the relationship between the mitzva of tefillin and living in Eretz Yisrael. The Torah often speaks in praise of Eretz Yisrael, and most of that praise relates to its material abundance. Thus, in the book of Devarim, the Torah promises:
And you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to fear Him. For the Lord your God brings you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey;[4] a land wherein you shalt eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you may dig brass. And you shall eat and be satisfied and bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. (Devarim 8:6-10)
Several chapters later we read:
Therefore shall you keep all the commandment which I command you this day, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land, where you go over to possess it; and that you may prolong your days upon the land, which the Lord swore to your fathers to give to them and to their seed, a land flowing with milk and honey.[5] For the land, where you go in to possess it is not as the land of Egypt, from which you came out, where you did sow your seed and did water it with your foot, as a garden of herbs; but the land, where you go over to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinks water as the rain of heaven cometh down; a land which the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (Devarim 11:8-12)
Similarly, when the Torah speaks of the reward awaiting those who do God's will or the punishment to be meted out against those who defy it, it greatly emphasizes the material blessing or cursing of the land. Thus, in the continuation of the verses that we have already seen in the section of Vehaya im Shamoa:
And I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your corn, and your wine, and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be satisfied. Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; and the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and He shut up the heaven, so that there shall be no rain, and the ground shall not yield her fruit; and you perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord gives you. (Devarim 11:14-17)
So too in Parashat Bechukotai:
Then I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall reach to the vintage, and the vintage shall reach to the sowing time; and you shall eat your bread until you have enough, and dwell in your land safely. And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; and I will cause evil beasts to cease out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land. (Vayikra 24:4-6)
And so too in Parashat Ki-Tavo:
And the Lord gave you favor in the fruit of your womb, and in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your land on the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. The Lord shall open up his good treasure to the heavens, to give the rain of your country in his time, and to bless all the work of your hand. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. And the Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; and you shall be above only, and you shall not be beneath; if you shall hearken to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day, to observe and to do them. (Devarim 28:11-13)
The greatness of Eretz Yisrael and the abundance found within it stem from God's intention to allow good material life in it, a life of blessing and well-being. He does this so that the people inhabiting the land can fulfill their spiritual destiny.
The eyes of the Lord, which are constantly directed at His land from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, bestow great bounty on its crops and yields, its springs and its streams. In so doing, they allow the people of Israel to live securely in the land and fulfill the spiritual goals of building a holy people, living in God's land and before Him.
One who lives in Eretz Yisrael is aware of the fact that God's eyes are directed at His land and His people. He, too, therefore lives with a sense of standing and being present before God: "I have set the Lord always before me; surely He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Tehillim 16:8)
There is always a danger that some will see the great abundance of the land as an end in itself. Such a person will not only ignore the fact that all this goodness is intended only to facilitate and enable the fulfillment of the goals of God's service in Eretz Yisrael. He is also liable to completely forget God's gift and blessing. From this he will become immersed in the pursuit of his desires and pleasures, erroneously thinking that it is all his success and achievement. A person of this kind believes that it is his power that has created and continues to create all this might, and that it is by virtue of his strength that he has amassed all of his assets and treasures.
Therefore, the Torah commands us: "You shall be holy." The Torah expands on this idea at the end of that section, stating that God gives his people a land flowing with milk and honey in order that they may separate themselves from the nations and the world of impurity and sanctify themselves as God's nation:
But I have said to you: You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess it, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the peoples. You shall therefore separate between the clean beast and the unclean, and between the unclean fowl and the clean; and you shall not make your souls detestable by beast, or by fowl, or by anything with which the ground teems, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. And you shall be holy to Me; for I the Lord am holy, and have set you apart from the peoples, that you should be Mine. (Vayikra 20:24-26) 
Tefillin, which are worn opposite the heart and against the brain, direct the powers of the body for the good of the powers of the soul. They give a person great strength, so that he can sense the Divine presence and internalize his duty in the world. Similarly, they assist a person to connect to the land. In this way, he can internalize and understand that in essence the land and its pleasures are intended to strengthen the relationship between the people who are living in their land and God, who desired this land as His seat in this world. In this way, Israel will be sanctified through their Torah and their prayers, through their actions and way of life in their land, wherever they turn.
The sense of cleaving to God and His Torah through tefillin radiates, as stated, on all of a person's bodily needs and refines them, as it mobilizes them to develop the forces of the soul. In addition, the sense of cleaving to God also affects the nature of living in Eretz Yisrael, which is not merely earthly life, but living on the earth with one's head reaching up to heaven, with God's eyes directed at it for good.
This is what Chazal had in mind when they said: "Perform this precept, for you shall enter the land on its account" (Kiddushin 37b).
(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] What we say below is based on the words of R. Kook, but developed in accordance with our own understanding. The interested reader is directred to see R. Kook's words in full in his aforementioned book.
[2] See also Ramban, Devarim 21:18, regarding a rebellious son: "First, that he makes light of his father and mother and rebels against them, and second, that he is a glutton and a drunkard, and thus transgresses the command, 'You shall be holy' (Vayikra 19:2). And it is further stated: 'And Him shall you serve, and to Him shall you cleave' (Devarim 13:5), [which means] as I have explained, that we are commanded to know God in all our ways, and a glutton and a drunkard do not know the way of God." We see from here that one who immerses himself in his body's lusts and desires does not know God and cannot reach a state of cleaving to Him.
[3] As we have explained earlier, "these things" refers to the entire Torah, from which we choose tefillin, mezuza, and keriat Shema, Torah portions and verses that represent all of the Torah.  
[4] This verse is the foundation of many halakhot connected to the seven species for which Eretz Yisrael is praised, e.g. the mitzva of bikkurim, priority regarding blessings, and the mei-ein shalosh blessing.
[5] This phrase, "flowing with milk and honey," is the key phrase to the praise of Eretz Yisrael in the Torah, appearing 15 times in the Torah and 5 more times in the Prophets.