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That Tefillin Feeling

The Obligations of the Student Part 10


(Slide) Tefillin are cube-shaped black leather boxes, containing four scriptural passages, attached to the head and arm and worn during the morning prayers… although eventually the tefillin were only worn for the Morning Prayer, in Talmudic times they were worn all day and had no special association with prayer. – My Jewish Learning


(Slide) Everyday when one recites the Shema, the centrepiece of morning and evening fixed prayer, one reads the following passages, “And you shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 6:8) 

Qashar owth yad towphaphah (to fa fa) ayin

This is again reiterated in Deuteronomy 11:18, “(You shall) tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deuteronomy 11:18)

We as Netzarim, alongside Orthodox Jews, are to be a distinguished people. That is to say that our prayer is to be different to the prayer of all the other nations. 


(Slide) The Hebrew word for prayer is tefillah, which is similar to the word Tefillin. Most people translate this into the English word prayer. However, tefillah is derived from two roots Pey-Lamed-Hey, which is pelah and means “wonder” or “awe,” and Pey-Lamed Lamed and the word l'hitpalel, meaning to judge oneself.

The modern Hebrew is palal, means “criminal.” This is interesting, because all of us in some sense are criminals. So we stand before the almighty judging or weighing ourselves. 


(Slide) The Greek word for Tefillin is Phylactery. This is where we get the word prophylactic, otherwise known as a condom and means to “shield” or “protect.” It comes from Philistine, which means “to defend” or “to guard.” 

This name came about from the Gentile nations who say the wearing of Tefillin as the wearing of a protective amulet. Yet Tefillin may not be considered such. Why? 

Because, the most vulnerable people are exempt from wearing them, that is slaves, women and children and they are forbidden to be worn in the bathroom or in cemeteries.

However, early Sages did believe them to play a role in protection from evil. This is mainly because the demographic instituted to wear them, adult males are the most prone to evil thoughts, and the donning of tefillin counters this act. 

But the Scriptural term used for this item is not Tefillin, but an Aramaic word, to-fa-fa or totafot, from the root word to “encircle,” which is translated “frontlets bound with knots.” The term to also means “two and two” denoting the four compartments that make up the Shel Rosh (head) Tefillin. 

The word Tefillin is not found in Scripture. It’s believed that the word came about as name that means “prayer device.”


The Function of Tefillin

What function do Tefillin perform. Sure, we are told to wear them, and we’ve alluded to them having protective qualities, but what do they do for us? 


(Slide) The Bible states that Tefillin are to serve as a reminder of Yahweh’s intervention at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. “And it shall be for a sign for you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the law of Yahweh may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand did Yahweh bring you out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:9)

“And it shall be for a sign upon your hand, and as totafot between your eyes; for with a mighty hand did Yahweh bring us forth out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:16)

So unlike a magic amulet, that when donned does all the work, the Tefillin are worn as a reminder, the strapping and cases pressing into our flesh, causing us to be reminded not think evil thoughts. In Judaism and our faith, sanctity in sacred objects comes from our own action in both the fashioning and handling of the item. In turn the items become imbued with holiness and further sanctify us. 

In many ways, the making and wearing of these items enables us to make a connection with the Divine, not unlike a prayer antenna, a mechanical device used to tune into a specific frequency.  


(Slide) As Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Tefillin, 4.25-6) puts it: "Great is the sanctity of tefillin, for as long as the tefillin are upon man's head and arm, he is humble and Elohim-fearing and is not drawn after frivolity and idle talk, and does not have evil thoughts, but directs his heart to words of truth and righteousness. Therefore a man should try to have them on him all day ... Even though they should be worn all day it is the greater obligation to wear them during prayer." In point of fact, some few extremely pious individuals, even in post-Talmudic times, did wear tefillin all day and this seems to have been Maimonides' own practice. But the vast majority of Jews only wear tefillin during the morning prayer.


(Slide) The earliest known use of tefillin was when Ya’akov tended Lavan’s sheep in Genesis 30. Ya’akov devised an ingenious way of maintain a strong and plentiful portion of sheep despite Lavan’s efforts to rob him of them. While he did not wrap tefillin himself, the Sages derive that his action of affecting the flock of sheep by carving streaks in rods of wood is the same premise in that he brought about a spiritual effect in a physical object.  

His actions evoked the same spiritual energies as are drawn down into the world through our performance of the mitzvah of tefillin. After this spiritual service was completed, however, the staves remained ordinary pieces of wood; Yaakov’s service left no lasting effect. In contrast, when a Jew puts on tefillin, the tefillin become sacred; the mitzvah imparts spirituality into their physical substance, and elevates them above the worldly plane.

(Slide) Invariably, this topic engenders the question, ‘Did Yahshua wear tefillin?”

King Messiah Yahshua is silent on any direct endorsement or rebuke of wearing tefillin. He does however rebuke overly large tefillin as he does excessive length of tzitzit (tassels). 

”They (the scribes and the Pharisees) tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.  Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their tefillin wide and the tzitzit on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; (Matthew 23:4-6)”

(Slide) The problem with the scribes and the Pharisees was not their authority but their hypocrisy.  “Upon the seat of Moshe the Parushim and the Rabbis of the Torah sit, and now, all which they will say unto you-keep and do; but THEIR deeds do not do, because THEY say and do not.” (Matthew 23:3)

The Seat of Moshe was the authority given to the Rabbis of the Torah and Pharisees by Abba Yahweh, and endorsed through His Son YahShua, to judge “the difficult cases (Exodus 18:22)” and give understanding to the people of the laws and statutes of Yahweh as Moshe did:- “Exodus 18:16…and…do make them know the statutes of Yahweh, and his Torah” without exaggeration or hypocrisy.

Can Women Wear Tefillin? 


(Slide) The duty of laying tefillin rests upon males after the age of thirteen years.  Although women are exempt from the obligation, some early codifiers allowed them to do so. Historically, the mitzvahof tefillin was not performed by women, but the ritual was apparently kept by some women in medieval France and Germany. Traditions exist of some prominent women laying tefillin.


Others who are not obliged to lay tefillin include a mourner during the first day of his mourning period, a bridegroom on his wedding-day. Sufferers of stomach pain or one who is otherwise in pain and cannot concentrate his mind are also exempt. One who is engaged in the study of the Law and scribes of and dealers in tefillin and mezuzot while engaged in their work if it cannot be postponed, are also free from this obligation. 


(Slide) There are plenty of resources available that will enable the student to learn much about Tefillin. I recommend buying a book or two on the subject before or with your purchase of tefillin. 


Tefillin: Making the Connection by Yisroel Ehrman is a book outlining the laws and significance of tefillin and is a good entry level work introducing the novice student to this Biblical command. It contains two vivid stories of Jews devotion to the act of binding tefillin that take place during WWII and shows how to put them on and contains a question and answers section. It has full colour photos and is very easy to read. With less the 80 pages and bound in a durable hardback format, this book can be taken anywhere. 


(Slide) There are literally hundreds of places one can buy Tefillin. Do your own research and ask questions when needed. 


(Slide) In considering to buy teffilin bear in mind that it is woven into the daily Shema and is not only a verbal proclamation that is a sign, but the actual physical application of the vow. Also, it is well worth considering the alternative. You can go with Yahweh. Deuteronomy 6:8: "You shall bind them (commandments) as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead."  Or you can go with the Beast. Revelations 13:16: "He will cause all, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark..."


(Slide) Furthermore, there are a few startling similarities between a heroin addict’s ritual of shooting up and an Israelite ritual of binding tefillin. One is an artificial counterfeit spiritual high that gradually eats away the body and soul, whilst the other is a biblical command that heightens one’s spiritual state and increase the length and quality of one’s days. 

“May some of the spiritual influence of the commandment of tefillin be extended upon me so that I have a long life, a flow of holiness, and holy thoughts, without even an inkling of sin or iniquity; and that the Evil Inclination will not seduce us nor incite against us, and that it permit us to serve Hashem as is our hearts' desire. “ – Tefillin Prayer

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