The Power of Tefillan

 

Usually on Shabbat I talk about something practical to everyday life. However, today I want to discuss something that is not used on Shabbat but rather during the week: Tefillan. Tefillan represent the power of our covenantal relationship with G-d. When we bind them on our hands and put them on our forehead, we demonstrate that we are accepting the responsibility of fulfilling the commandments and of being G-d’s emissaries in the world.

Why don’t we wear Tefillan on Shabbat? Because they are described as a sign, (an אות) of G-d’s presence.[1] During the week, when weget preoccupied with our jobs or our regular schedules, we need this sign to center us and keep us on the proper path. However, on Shabbat, when we cease from working and enjoy festive prayer services and meals with our families, we do not need that outward sign, and so therefore we refrain from wearing Tefillan.

The Tefillan contains four passages from the Torah, which if you want to study them in greater detail you are welcome to attend the World Wide Wrap tomorrow morning at 9:00 am. The latter two passages are in what we now consider to be the שמע: the ואהבת (about loving G-d and teaching our children the commandments) and והיה אם שמוע (about fulfilling G-d’s commands so that we have rain in its proper season). The former two come from this morning’s parsha, where we first learn that Tefillan is worn as connected with our ancestors’ being redeemed from Egypt. Because they were saved by G-d, they (and we) are required to eat unleavened bread for seven days as well as redeem our firstborn children and animals.

There’s an additional aspect to Tefillan, however; the covenantal relationship between the people of Israel and G-d. We as Israel need a daily reminder to follow the commandments, but G-d also needs a reminder about the unique nature of the children of Israel. In Talmud Berachot[2], the rabbis ask “What’s inside G-d’s tefillan?” and the answer is the verse מי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ; “Who is like the people Israel, a unique nation on earth.”[3] G-d also needs a reminder of the special nature of our people: that we were the only people who agreed to accept His commandments.[4]

The relationship between G-d and Israel is highlighted every morning when we do the last three wraps on the arm Tefillan. We recite a special phrase from Isaiah: וארשתיך לי לעולם, וארשתיך לי בצדק ובמשפט ובחסד וברחמים, וארשתיך לי באמונה וידעת את ה; “I will betroth you to me forever, I will betroth you to me in justice and righteousness, lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know G-d.”[5] Every morning, we reaffirm our covenant with G-d to be better people, devoting ourselves to doing acts of lovingkindness while concurrently incorporating Jewish rituals such as prayer, kashrut and Shabbat into our lives. At the same time, we recognize that we are unique and should take pride in who we are and what we contribute to the world. G-d is with us, guiding us on how to make our lives better each and every day.

The wearing of Tefillan bolsters our faith in G-d and in our work as the Jewish people. I encourage anyone here who has not put on Tefillan to do so tomorrow morning at minyan. We have plenty of extra sets in the Beit Midrash for you to use. With Tefillan, we reenact our betrothal to G-d every morning, demonstrating our devotion and faith to Judaism. Through saying the passage from Hosea, we betroth ourselves to G-d anew each and every morning. In a similar vein, we have a betrothed couple, Justin and Rachel, who will be getting married next weekend. Under the Huppah, there will be a betrothal ceremony with an exchange of rings. In addition to this, I always like to encourage couples to write their own betrothals (or if you want to call them, vows) to one another: what you love about your partner and how you will devote yourself to your partner in marriage. Write it up, let the other know after the ceremony, and refer back to it on a regular basis after the wedding. This way your dedication to your partner will always remain on the forefront of your mind, just as the words inside the Tefillan reposition G-d to the center of our lives.

Mazal Tov, Justin and Rachel, on your Aufruf and upcoming marriage. To crystallize our happiness for you through words, I ask that we turn to Page 838 and continue responsively.

[1] Exodus 13:9

[2] Berachot 6a

[3] 2 Samuel 7:23

[4] See Mechilta of Rabbi Ishmael Chapter 5

[5] Hosea 2:21

Advertisements

One thought on “The Power of Tefillan

  1. We recite a special phrase from Isaiah: וארשתיך לי לעולם, וארשתיך לי בצדק ובמשפט ובחסד וברחמים, וארשתיך לי באמונה וידעת את ה; “I will betroth you to me forever, I will betroth you to me in justice and righteousness, lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know G-d.”

    note: it is from Hosea, not Isaiah.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s