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Torah Attitude: Parashas Eikev: The power and energy of tefillin
There is a special connection between the commandment of putting on tefillin and being victorious over the enemies of the Jewish people. The tefillin on the head is seen by others. This proclaims a connection between the one wearing tefillin and G'd who commanded this commandment. "For the words of the Torah to be fulfilled, it is not sufficient that one just put on one's tefillin without internalizing the message of the tefillin." In ancient times people wore tefillin not just during prayers, but throughout the day. Every morning we say a blessing where we bless G'd "who crowns Israel with splendour". Just like the king adorns his head with a crown, and the High Priest wears a special ornament on his forehead, every Jew puts on his tefillin as his own personal crown. By strapping the tefillin on our head and arm we connect with G'd and His Torah. By internalizing the message of the tefillin we invoke its special power, spreading fear amongst our enemies.
In last week's parasha (Parashas Va'Eschanan, Devarim 6:4-9) we read the first portion of Shema. In this week's parasha (ibid 11:13-21) we read the second portion of Shema. In both portions, the Torah instructs us to put on tefillin. There is a special connection between the commandment of putting on tefillin and becoming victorious over the enemies of the Jewish people. In Parashas Ki Savo (Devarim 28:1-10) it says: "And it shall be if you listen to the voice of HASHEM your G'd to observe, to perform, all of His commandments … HASHEM your G'd will make you supreme over all the nations of the land … G'd shall give that your enemies that rise against you shall be smitten before you. They will come out against you on one road and they will flee from you on seven roads … G'd will raise you to be a holy people for Him … as you observe the commandments of HASHEM your G'd … and all the nations of the land will see that the name of G'd is proclaimed over you and they will fear you."
G'd's name proclaimed
The Talmud (Berachos 6a) teaches that the meaning of "the nations of the land will see that the name of G'd is proclaimed over you" is a reference to the tefillin we wear on our head. In contrast to the tefillin on the arm, which is covered by clothing, and is primarily a reminder for ourselves, the tefillin on the head is seen by others and proclaims our connection to G'd who instructed us to fulfill this commandment.
Vilna Gaon and innkeeper
An amazing story is related about the Vilna Gaon who was once staying in a Jewish-owned inn. One morning, the innkeeper got up to say his prayers. Suddenly, a stranger marched into the room where the innkeeper was praying and started to attack him. When the Gaon heard the commotion, he entered the room just as the attacker was about to hit the innkeeper. When the stranger saw the Gaon, his was overcome by fear and collapsed on the spot. The innkeeper turned to his prominent guest, full of wonder, and asked him, "What did you do?" To this the Gaon answered, "What are you so surprised about? Did you not know that the Talmud teaches that when your enemies see your tefillin on your head, they will fear you?" The innkeeper responded, "But I was also wearing tefillin." The Vilna Gaon explained to his host that in Hebrew the exact words of the Talmud are "this refers to the tefillin "in the head" rather than "on the head". The Gaon added further, "In order that the promise of the Torah shall be fulfilled, it is not sufficient that one just put on one's tefillin without internalizing the message of the tefillin. The words of the Torah written in the tefillin are supposed to enter our minds to subjugate our senses and abilities to G'd's service (as we mention in the special prayer before we put on the tefillin), and to reinforce our belief in everything written in these portions of the Torah". This story teaches us that the fear generated by the tefillin upon our enemies and attackers only takes effect if the person wearing the tefillin strives to become one with his tefillin.
In Parashas Shoftim (Devarim 20:1-9) the Torah instructs us how to prepare the Jewish army for battle. One of the instructions is that the officers shall inform the soldiers which individuals are not fit for battle. One of the reasons why someone would not be allowed to participate is as it says: "Who is the man who is scared and fainthearted, he shall go and return to his house, and he shall not melt the hearts of his brothers as his heart." Rashi quotes the Talmud (Sotah 44a) that interprets the meaning of "the man who is scared and fainthearted" in two ways. On a simple level, this refers to someone who is not fit for battle and cannot handle to see a drawn sword. On a deeper level, the Talmud explains that the Torah is telling us about someone who is scared that because of his sins he will not merit G'd's assistance in the war. The Talmud (ibid 44b) illustrates this with an example of someone who speaks between putting on tefillin on his hand and tefillin on his head. Even for such a minor transgression, he cannot risk participating in battle and must return home. One of the great halachic authorities, known as the Ros''h, explains why the Talmud chose this example. Says the Ros''h, there is a special connection between the commandment of tefillin and going to war. The soldiers need the merit of the commandment of tefillin to see the fulfillment of what it says later in Parashas Vezos Haberachah (Devarim 33:20) "And he tears off the arm and even the head."
All day long
It is interesting to note what Rabbeinu Ephraim adds to the Rosh's explanation. It is well known that in ancient times people wore tefillin not just during prayers, but throughout the day. They elevated themselves to such a high spiritual level that they were able to constantly wear tefillin without getting distracted from their connection to these holy writings. Says Rabbeinu Ephraim, it seems that the Jewish soldiers would even be wearing their tefillin during warfare. In the Book of Samuel II (Chapter 1) it is related how a messenger came and informed King David about the death of King Saul in battle. When King David asked the messenger how he knew, the messenger said, "I stood over him and I killed him … and I took the crown that was on his head and the bracelet that was on his arm." The commentaries (see Targum, Rashi and Mahari Caro) explain that this "crown" and "bracelet" are referring to the tefillin that King Saul wore during battle on his head and arm.
Crown Israel with splendour
Every morning we say a blessing where we bless G'd "who crowns Israel with splendour". The custom is to touch one's tefillin when one pronounces this blessing. In Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim (25:3) it is related that the Ros''h, used to put on his tefillin immediately prior to saying this blessing (see Mishnah Berurah (ibid 13)).
The tefillin are the true crown and ornaments, not only of the Jewish king but of every Jewish male. The Maharsha explains in his commentary to the Talmud (Yuma 72b) that just like the king wears his crown, and the High Priest wears his ornament on his forehead, every Jew has his tefillin as his own personal crown. This, says the Maharsha, corresponds to the three crowns given to the Jewish nation as mentioned in Pirkei Avos (4:17), the crown of royalty, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of Torah.
Connect with G'd
It is self-evident that the king wears the crown of royalty and the ornament of the High Priest represents the crown of priesthood. But what is the connection between the tefillin and the study of Torah. The answer to this we find in Parashas Bo when, prior to the exodus to Egypt, the Jews were commanded to observe the commandment of tefillin. As it says, (Shemos 13:9): "And it shall be for you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder between your eyes, so that the Torah of G'd shall be in your mouth." Every Jewish male has the privilege from the age of 13 to wear this crown and ornament. By strapping the tefillin on our head and arm we connect with G'd and His Torah. It reminds us of the oneness of the One who commands us to fulfill this obligation, and reinforces our belief in His sovereign power over every detail of the universe, as He showed at the exodus from Egypt. But more than anything else, the tefillin are like batteries that charge the one wearing them, and give him energy to study Torah. As the great Rebbe of Radomsk writes (Tiferes Shlomo v.2 p.196), "If a person fulfills the commandment of tefillin correctly, he will feel a longing to learn Torah after putting them on." This is how strong the connection is between tefillin and Torah study.
By not only observing this special commandment but internalizing the message of the tefillin, we invoke its special power, charging us with the energy to study Torah and spreading fear amongst our enemies. It is up to us to utilize this special tool in the way it was intended. In this merit, may we soon see the fulfillment of the words of the Torah (Devarim 28:10-11): "And all the peoples of the land will see that "the name of G'd is proclaimed over you and they will fear you and G'd will give you plenty of goodness … on the ground that G'd swore to your forefathers to give you."
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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