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Torah Attitude: Parashas Va'Eschanan: The power and energy of tefillin 1

Summary

There is a special connection between the commandment of putting on tefillin and overcoming the enemies of the Jewish people. The tefillin on the head is seen by others and proclaims a connection of the one wearing tefillin to G'd who commanded this mitzvah. "For 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 wears his crown, and the High Priest wears his ornament on his forehead, every Jew has 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.

Overcoming enemies

There is a special connection between the commandment of putting on tefillin and overcoming the enemies of the Jewish people. In Parashas Ki Savo (Devarim 28:1-10) it says: "And it shall be that 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 for Him a holy people 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 (Berachot 6a) explains the meaning of "the nations of the land will see the name of G'd proclaimed over you". This is a reference to the tefillin worn on the head. In contrast to the tefillin on the arm, which is covered by clothing, and is primarily a reminder for the one who wears it, the tefillin on the head is seen by others and proclaims a connection of the one wearing tefillin to G'd who commanded this mitzvah.

Vilna Gaon and innkeeper

It is related that the Vilna Gaon was once staying in a Jewish-owned inn. In the 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 came into the room as the attacker was about to hit the innkeeper. As 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? The Talmud says, 'And when you 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 if one analyzes the exact words of the Talmud it refers to the tefillin "in the head", rather than "on the head". The Gaon added further, "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. The words of the Torah written in the tefillin are supposed to enter our mind and brain [as mentioned above] to subjugate our senses and abilities to G'd's service, and to reinforce our belief in everything written in these portions of the Torah." In other words, the fear generated by the tefillin on our enemies and attackers only takes effect when the person wearing the tefillin becomes one with the tefillin.

Serious transgression

In another place, the Talmud (Menachos 36a) rules that when someone speaks in-between putting on the tefillin of the hand and the tefillin of the head, this is such a serious transgression that he cannot be allowed to participate in battle at the front. One of the great halachic authorities, known as the Ros''h, explains that the reason for this is that the soldiers needed the mitzvah of tefillin (on the arm and the head) to see the fulfillment of what it says (Devarim 33:20) "And he tears off the arm and even the head."

All day long

It is interesting to note that in ancient times people wore tefillin not just during prayers, but throughout the day. They elevated themselves to a spiritual level and constantly wore tefillin without getting distracted from their connection to these holy writings. Rabbeinu Ephraim adds to the Rosh's explanation that 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 that King Saul had died, 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)).

Three crowns

The connection between this blessing and the tefillin is that these are the true crown and ornaments, not only of the Jewish king but of every Jewish male. As 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. These are 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

We find the connection between the tefillin and the study of Torah 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 the energy to study Torah. As the great Rebbe of Radomsk writes (Tiferet Shlomo v.2 p.196), "If a person fulfills the mitzvah 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.

Special power

By 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.


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