I spent last week at Camp Ramah. On Shabbat afternoon, I was given the opportunity to teach the Hanhallah, comprised of unit heads and other senior staff. I reminded them that the second paragraph of Shema falls in this week’s parashah, and it would be a superb opportunity to teach their campers that we kiss our tefillin when we mention them each day. In Devarim 11:18 we read:
וּקְשַׁרְתֶּ֨ם אֹתָ֤ם לְאוֹת֙ עַל־יֶדְכֶ֔ם וְהָי֥וּ לְטוֹטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֥ין עֵינֵיכֶֽם׃ You are to tie them as a sign on your hand, and let them be as bands between your eyes.
I find kissing my tefillin to be a meaningful part of tefillah, along with kissing the tzizit during the third paragraph of the Shema. By doing so, we don’t just say the words; we go hands on to remind ourselves of the mitzvah. More often than not, if my mind wanders, this verse in Shema (along with its partner in the first paragraph of Shema, which was in last week’s parashah) reels me back in to the task at hand. The task is a big one; it is talking to God.
When I was at Camp Ramah, I was asked about my tefillin story, and why it is that I lay tefillin each weekday morning. I shared the story of a conversation I had with a classmate back in rabbinical school more than 20 years ago. Until I started to do it, I thought it was odd to see women laying tefillin. This classmate told me that if she were going to visit a monarch, she would wear some form of armour, shielding her from the enormity and greatness of the monarch. That is how she sees tefillin. It is her armour for when she sets time to connect with God each morning. That understanding of tefillin resonated with me, and I started to learn how to lay tefillin the next day. I love the feeling of tefillin on me. It connects me to other Jews and enhances my tefillah experience. I actually miss laying tefillin during other minyan times during the day.
The Talmud has many texts about tefillin. This one, found in tractate Berakhot is my favourite.
אָמַר רַבִּי אָבִין בַּר רַב אַדָּא, אָמַר רַבִּי יִצְחָק: מִנַּיִן שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַנִּיחַ תְּפִילִּין שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״נִשְׁבַּע ה׳ בִּימִינוֹ וּבִזְרוֹעַ עֻזּוֹ״. ״בִּימִינוֹ״ — זוֹ תּוֹרָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״מִימִינוֹ אֵשׁ דָּת לָמוֹ״, ״וּבִזְרוֹעַ עֻזּוֹ״ — אֵלּוּ תְּפִילִּין, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״ה׳ עֹז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן״. וּמִנַּיִן שֶׁהַתְּפִילִּין עוֹז הֵם לְיִשְׂרָאֵל — דִּכְתִיב: ״וְרָאוּ כׇּל עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ כִּי שֵׁם ה׳ נִקְרָא עָלֶיךָ וְיָרְאוּ מִמֶּךָּ״. וְתַנְיָא, רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר הַגָּדוֹל אוֹמֵר: אֵלּוּ תְּפִילִּין שֶׁבָּרֹאשׁ. אֲמַר לֵיהּ רַב נַחְמָן בַּר יִצְחָק לְרַב חִיָּיא בַּר אָבִין: הָנֵי תְּפִילִּין דְּמָרֵי עָלְמָא מָה כְּתִיב בְּהוּ? אֲמַר לֵיהּ ״וּמִי כְּעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל גּוֹי אֶחָד בָּאָרֶץ״.
Rabbi Avin bar Rav Adda said that Rabbi Yitzḥak said: From where is it derived that the Holy One, Blessed be He, wears tefillin? As it is stated: “The Lord has sworn by His right hand, and by the arm of His strength” ... Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak said to Rav Ḥiyya bar Avin: What is written in the tefillin of the Master of the world? Rav Ḥiyya bar Avin replied: It is written: “Who is like Your people, Israel, one nation in the land?” (I Chronicles 17:21)
If we want to be God-like, or strive to live in the image of God, then laying tefillin is a way to get there. If you have never tried to lay tefillin before, feel free to ask any member of the Spiritual Leadership Team for help. I also recommend this informative video, created by the Miller Introduction to Judaism Program on how to lay tefillin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tc9iA6OZsfs
Rabbi Fryer Bodzin