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Tefillin, Parshiyot, etc.

What are tefillin?

Why doesn’t the Torah specify the tefillin’s appearance and how to produce them?

What distinguishes this important mitzvah, and what is its source?

Why are the parshiyot (passages) on the hand tefillin written on one long single parchment and those of the head written on four separate parchments?

What is the significance of the content of the parshiyot?

What should one do if forced to choose between exceptional parshiyot and exceptional boxes (housings)?


The mitzvah of tefillin is extremely important.  It is observed every weekday, and scores of people meticulously observed it even in difficult and troubled times.  We would, therefore, expect to find several verses in the Torah mentioning the mitzvah but, actually, this is not the case.  In the written Torah it is scarcely mentioned.  There are four short verses and their interpretation is vague.  We are familiar with two of them from the “Shema” and “Vehaya im shamo’a”:  In the “Shema” the verse is “And you shall bind them as a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as totafot between your eyes”, in the singular and in “Vehaya im shamo’a” it says, “Therefore you shall lay these words of mine in your heart and in your soul; and you shall bind them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as totafot between your eyes" in the plural in Hebrew, a public appeal.


The two additional verses in Shemot (Numbers) pertaining to tefillin are almost an exact duplication of what is written in the “Shema”.   

It appears then, that in a most unusual and surprising way, this important mitzvah, performed on most days of the year, merits only a few words, and even these are presented as a riddle.  

 A distinctive code becomes evident. We will try to crack this code, at least in part, here.


The tefillin are made up of three components: the housings (batim), parshiyot, and straps.


The heart of the tefillin is the parshiyot, although they cannot be seen.


The housings, from the sound of their name, may be considered secondary to what they contain.


This too reflects the concept that the parshiyot are central to the tefillin .


The texts of the hand tefillin and the head tefillin are identical, with the only difference that the hand tefillin is written on one long parchment, seven lines high, as a rule, and the head tefillin are written on four separate parchments to a height of four lines.  What is the rationale?  I heard an interesting explanation for this from Rav Uzi Kalchaim, of blessed memory, and this is the condensed version:  the head (mind) can accomodate four separate ideas and thoughts, but in reality- the hand, all these have to be combined into one system.


In any case, the centrality of the parshiyot, is already clear when one has to decide based on expense, between acquiring exceptional boxes, or exceptional parshiyot, and one should purchase the exceptional parshiyot in less expensive housings.


What is the substance of these parshiyot?

The Babylonian Talmud in the tractate Berachot 6, reveals that the Master of the Universe has, as it were, tefillin, and tells us that the parshiyot in His tefillin are condensed into one passuk (verse): "Who is like you, Yisrael, a singular nation on Earth?"  And what is the essence of our parshiyot?


Careful scrutiny will show that the parshiyot of the tefillin, comprisse three themes:

a.      The story of the birth of the Nation of Israel upon the Exodus from Egypt, while emphasizing the direct and essential connection between us and Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel)- the Land of milk and honey, and this is in the parsha of  Kadesh li kol bechor” (sanctify unto me every firstborn) (Numbers 13: 1- 10).


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