Shiur #50: The Tefillin of Israel and God's Tefillin The Mitzva of Tefillin (Part IV)
I. God's Tefillin
R. Avin bar R. Ada said in the name of R. Yitzchak: How do you know that the Holy One, blessed is He, puts on tefillin? For it is stated: "The Lord has sworn by His right hand, and by the arm of His strength" (Yeshayahu 62:8). "By His right hand" - this is the Torah, as it is stated: "At His right hand was a fiery law to them" (Devarim 33:2). "And by the arm of His strength" - this is the tefillin, as it is stated: "The Lord will give strength to His people" (Tehilim 29:11). And how do you know that the tefillin are a strength to Israel? As it is written: "And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the name of the Lord is called upon you, and they shall be afraid of you" (Devarim 28:10), and it has been taught: R. Eliezer the Great says: This refers to the tefillin of the head.
R. Nachman bar Yitzchak said to R. Chiya bar Avin: What is written in the tefillin of the Master of the Universe? He replied to him: "And who is like Your people Israel, a nation one in the earth" (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 17:21). Does, then, the Holy One, blessed is He, sing the praises of Israel? Yes, as it is written: "You have avouched the Lord this day… and the Lord has avouched you this day" (Devarim 26:17-18). The Holy One, blessed is He, said to Israel: You have made me a unique entity in the world, and I shall make you a unique entity in the world. You have made me a unique entity in the world, as it is stated: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Devarim 6:4). And I shall make you a unique entity in the world, as it is stated: "And who is like Your people Israel, a nation one in the earth" (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 17:21).
R. Acha bar Raba said to R. Ashi: This accounts for one case [of tefillin]; what about the other cases? He replied to him: [They contain the following verses]: "For what great nation is there, etc."; "And what great nation is there, etc." (Devarim 4:7-8); "Happy are you, O Israel, etc." (Devarim 33:9); "Or has God assayed, etc. (Devarim 4:34); and "To make you high above all nations" (Devarim 26:19). If so, there would be too many cases? Hence [you must say]: "For what great nation is there," and "And what great nation is there," which are similar, are in one case; "Happy are you, O Israel," and "Who is like Your people," in one case; "Or has God assayed," in one case; and "To make you high," in one case. And all these verses are written on [the tefillin of] His arm. (Berakhot 6a)
The tefillin that are worn by God express His great love for Israel. By wearing tefillin, God exalts Israel and sets them at the peak of creation. God, as it were, created His world solely for Israel, who are referred to as the "first" (reishit).
This mutual laying of tefillin expresses reciprocity; each side in this holy covenant glorifies the other. As the gemara formulates this idea: "You have made me a unique entity in the world, and I shall make you a unique entity in the world."
With the tefillin worn on our heads and our arms, we proclaim the unity of God's name through the words, "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one," and thus emphasize His absolute unity, which means that no force operates in the world other than Him. Thus, we establish God's supreme unity, according to which all of creation is contained in Him. We declare that God is the only thing that exists in the world and there is nothing other than Him.
In God's tefillin, He singles out His nation Israel, "And who is like Your people Israel, a nation one in the earth." The people of Israel are God's chariot, the one nation in the world that gives full expression to God's kingdom on earth. The people of Israel openly declare that the name of the glory of God's kingdom is present in the world. This is the virtue of Israel, who crown God as king in this world.
The significance of the difference between the two unities, the supreme unity and the lower unity, finds expression in the following possibilities: Do we negate all of creation and include it in God's existence, or is it the creation that makes God's existence present in His world and crowns Him as king in that reality? Supreme unity relates to God's essence, there being nothing outside of Him. Lower unity, on the other hand, relates to God's creatures, who recognize His kingdom and view Him as the sole king of the universe.
The tefillin fully reflect these two unities and the subtle and delicate connection between them. The tefillin worn by the people of Israel present and emphasize the one God, there being nothing outside of Him. With these tefillin, we praise Him and crown him with the upper crown as the absolute One, there being nothing outside of Him. In the tefillin worn by God, God praises His people, who crown Him and recognize His kingdom in this world, and together they express the harmony and perfection of God's world.
This midrash expresses the perfect reciprocity between God and the people of Israel. This reciprocity is expressed through the assertion that even God wears, as it were, tefillin on His head and on His arm, and that even His tefillin have four passages in the four cases on his head and in the single case on His arm.
II. The Tefillin Worn on the Arm and the Tefillin Worn on the Head
R. Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin discusses the relationship between the tefillin worn on the arm and the tefillin worn on the head. He bases his remarks on the gemara's statement in connection with the verse in the book of Esther (8:16): "The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor."
"Honor" – this refers to tefillin. And similarly it is stated: "And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the name of the Lord is called upon you, and they shall be afraid of you" (Devarim 28:10). And it was taught: R. Eliezer the Great says: This refers to the tefillin of the head. (Megilla 16b)
R. Tzadok comments:
"'Honor' – this refers to tefillin" (Megilla 16b), as they are the bond and connection between Israel and their Father in heaven. This is the meaning and idea of tefillin, for in the tefillin of the people of Israel it is written: "The Lord is one," and in the tefillin of the Master of the Universe it is written: "One nation" (Berakhot 6a). There is unity through prayer, this being the unity of the Holy One, blessed is He, and His Shekhina. That is to say, one unites with the influence of God. This is the tefillin of the arm, which is worn against the heart, as prayer is service of the heart (Ta'anit 2a). And there is unity through Torah. That is to say, one unites with God's wisdom. This is the unity of Keri'at Shema, in which one accepts the yoke of the Torah and the yoke of the mitzvot. And this is the tefillin of the head, which is worn against the brain. (Likutein Ma'amarim, Purim 4)
Man's service of God derives from two sources and is based on two fundamental pillars: prayer and Torah, the service of the heart and the service of the mind and brain.
The tefillin of the arm correspond to the service of the heart, to prayer. Therefore, it says about them: "And they shall be for you a sign," and Chazal expound: "And not for others a sign." Personal service of the heart, which expresses one's individual connection to God through the pouring out of his heart to Him, should remain in the private domain of the relationship between each person and his Maker.
On the other hand, the tefillin of the head correspond to the service of the mind and the brain through the study of Torah, which is God's wisdom. Thus, it says about it:
"And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the name of the Lord is called upon you; and they shall be afraid of You" (Devarim 28:10). And R. Eliezer the Great said: These are the tefillin of the head. (Berakhot 6a)
The tefillin of the head are visible to all, in the sense of: "A man's wisdom makes his face to shine" (Kohelet 8:1). The light of God's wisdom that bursts forth from one who studies Torah can also find expression in the tefillin that are worn on one's head for all to see, as they illustrate the person's connection to God through His wisdom and Torah.
God's tefillin also give expression to two aspects of the connection between God and His people Israel, the tefillin of the arm and the tefillin of the head, as is mentioned in that gemara. The tefillin of the arm reveal God's desire for the prayers of the righteous, so that He might provide them with His bounty. The tefillin of the head reveal the essential connection between God and Israel through His wisdom and Torah. Israel, the Torah, and the Holy One, blessed is He, are one (Zohar, Vayikra, Acharei Mot 73a-b). This is the highest level of devotion through tefillin.
This mutual connection between Israel and God, and between God and Israel, which finds expression in tefillin, is a connection that cannot be broken, despite the passage of time. This is what Chazal said about God's revelation to Moshe in the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf, "And you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen" (Shemot 33:23):
R. Chana bar Bizna said in the name of R. Shimon the Pious: This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed is He, showed Moshe the knot of the tefillin. (Berakhot 7a)
The author of the Mei Ha-Shiloach writes in Parashat Ki-Tisa:
Tefillin allude to cleaving and connection, like "mighty wrestlings (naftulei)" (Bereishit 30:8). That is, that we are connected to the Holy One, blessed is He; even if He passes over us, we do not separate from him. In God's tefillin it is written: "For what great nation is there;" that is to say, God praises Israel for being connected to Him, and God is connected to them. Even if they sin, His love for them will not be severed.
III. Tefillin on Shabbat and Yom Tov
The gemara in Menachot records the views of the Tanna’im who say that one does not don tefillin on Shabbat or Yom Tov:
For it was taught: It is written: "And you shall observe this ordinance in its season from day to day" (Shemot 13:10); "day," but not night; "from day," but not all days; hence the Shabbat and Yom Tov are excluded. These are the words of R. Yose the Galilean. But R. Akiva says:… One might have thought that a man should put on the tefillin on Shabbat and on Yom Tov. Scripture therefore says: "And it shall be for a sign upon your hand, and for frontlets between your eyes" (Shemot 13:16), that is, [only on those days] which stand in need of a sign [are tefillin to be worn], but Shabbat and Yom Tov are excluded, since they themselves are a sign. (Menachot 36b)
According to R. Akiva, who maintains that a "sign" exempts one from tefillin, we must examine what the "sign" is that exempts one from putting on tefillin on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Rashi writes:
Those which stand in need of a sign. Days when the people of Israel must attach a sign to themselves in order to recognize that they are keeping the Torah of the Holy One, blessed is He. This comes to exclude Shabbat and Yom Tov, since they themselves are a sign between the Holy One, blessed is He, and Israel, as it is written: "For it is a sign between Me and you" (Shemot 31:13). (Rashi, Eiruvin 96a, s.v. mi)
We do not find that Yom Tov is explicitly referred to in the Torah as a sign. But the Rambam states:
Just as we recite kiddush on Friday night and havdala on Saturday night, so too, we recite kiddush on the night of a holiday's commencement and havdala on the night following a holiday and on the night following Yom Kippur, for they are all "Sabbaths of God." (Rambam, Hilkhot Shabbat 29:18)
This comparison between Yom Tov and Shabbat in the words of the Rambam emerges from the words of the gemara in Chagiga (18a).
Rashi points out that an ordinary mitzva cannot serve as a sign that that we are keeping God's Torah. This is because the sign does not lie in the servant's obedience to his Master's Torah, which is found in all mitzvot, but only in particular mitzvot that the Torah defines as a sign, like tefillin or Shabbat. It may be that, according to him, we are dealing with mitzvot that represent a special connection between the people of Israel and God, like tefillin, which express the idea of the name of God being called upon us, or like Shabbat, which expresses the covenant created between God and His people through its observance.
Nevertheless, the question remains: Why should we restrict the donning of tefillin on Shabbat and Yom Tov, just because they are a sign? Is this because wearing tefillin on those days would belittle the sign of Shabbat and Yom Tov? Or is it that the Torah declares that one can observe only one sign at a time? In other words, since the Torah explicitly excluded certain days ("from day to day," but not all days), we are forced to interpret that the Torah excluded those days which constitute a sign on their own. If so, the Torah is interested in exclusive signs, meaning that on a day which is itself a sign there is no room for another sign.
The Tosafot in Eiruvin (96a) seem to adopt the second possibility. According to them, the exposition, "from day to day," is based on "And it shall be for a sign." This is also what the Rashba says in the name of the Yerushalmi:
"Days," but not all days; hence Shabbat and Yom Tov are excluded. That Shabbat and Yom Tov are excluded is based on the exposition regarding, "And it shall be for a sign on your hand," for we expound: [Only on those days] which stand in need of a sign [are tefillin to be worn], but Shabbat and Yom Tov are excluded, since they themselves are a sign. And he maintains that from one alone we would not have derived this. Like this I found in the Yerushalmi, as it is taught there: "'And it shall be for a sign' – that which are for you a sign, to the exclusion of Shabbat and Yom Tov, which are entirely a sign. But surely it is already written: 'From day to day.' As R. Yochanan said: Any word that is not clear, we support it from several places." (Rashba, Eiruvin 96a)
The Beit Yosef, citing Midrash Ne'elam on Shir Ha-Shirim 1:4, writes that in His great love for His people, the people of Israel, God gave them the mitzva of tefillin, a sort of seal that is similar to the image of the king. God promised us in His Torah that as long as that image is seen upon us, the nations of the world will fear us, as the verse states: "And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the name of the Lord is called upon you; and they shall be afraid of you." Later, owing to the supernal love that the King had for us, He gave us His seal itself, as it were. In other words, God gave us Shabbat and Yom Tov, which themselves are the tefillin of the head worn by God. On these days, since we hold the supernal seal of the King, we must set aside the earthly tefillin that we put on every day. There is a grave prohibition to set aside the tefillin of the Master of the Universe and don our earthly tefillin, as they are only a token of the image of the King.
The Zohar there goes on about the matter of Chol Ha-Mo'ed, which draws its illumination from Yom Tov, and so Chol Ha-Mo'ed is also considered like the tefillin of the hand of the Master of the Universe that rest on the arms of Israel. Therefore, even on Chol Ha-Mo'ed, one should not wear human tefillin, because we are crowned with the seal of the King Himself.
In this way, expression is given to the power of tefillin, both human tefillin and God's tefillin, which are but an expression of the mighty connection between God and the people of Israel. We wear the seal of the King, and we avouch each other – we avouch God and God avouches us.
(Translated by David Strauss)