Clothed In Thought by Rabbi Darren Blackstein


This week’s Parashah continues the excitement of the ten plagues that served as Hashem’s tools in facilitating the exodus from Egypt. After describing the plague of the firstborn, the laws of the Korban Pesach, and the laws of the firstborn, the Parashah concludes with a statement about Tefillin: “VeHayah LeOt Al Yadechah ULTotafot Bein Einecha Ki BeChozek Yad Hotzianu Hashem MiMitzrayim,” “It shall be a sign upon your hand, and an ornament between your eyes, that with a strong hand Hashem brought us out from Egypt” (Shemot 13:16). This Pasuk marks the end of the Parashah, and there is no further mention of Tefillin in nearby verses. It seems strange to mention the Mitzvah of Tefillin in this manner, almost like an off-the-cuff remark. However, the Ramban treats this Pasuk with great importance, focusing on both its content and location.

The Ramban explains that the reason for Tefillin is contained in the parchment within the Tefillin. Two of the portions recorded in the Tefillin contain Mitzvot that are to be fulfilled upon entering Israel and, as such, remind us of the exodus from Egypt. Therefore, the Ramban says, we put these verses upon our arms, near the heart, and upon our heads, near the brain. These two areas are the pivotal places for thought.

(If it seems strange to associate the heart with thought, please refer to Shlomo’s request of Hashem (Melachim I 3:9), in which Shlomo asks for a “Leiv Shomei’a,” “an understanding heart.”) The two other Parashiyot in the Tefillin are part of the Shema. These two sections contain two powerful concepts: those of divine unity and of consequences for our actions. The Tefillin on the arm represents the glory of the strength of Hashem, as He delivered us from bondage. In human anatomy, the arm symbolizes action and strength. The action of Hashem, saving us from the bondage of Mitzrayim, was brought about through the eminences of God’s divine unity. We should focus on this remembrance as we wear our Tefillin. The knot of the Tefillin Shel Rosh rests over the base of the brain, which guards our memory. This knot then extends through the Tefillin straps to the front of the head. As we wear Tefillin, our memory of the Exodus is ignited and then travels to the front of our minds, so that we may dwell and meditate upon its meaning.

The Ramban then goes on to explain a common phenomenon: forgetfulness. People often forget Hashem. Even if they recognize His existence, they often forget His involvement in daily life. The Tefillin serve to prevent us from forgetting Hashem. As long as we focus on the content within the Tefillin, we will be aware of Hashem and his influence on our lives. As such, the ancient practice of wearing Tefillin all day becomes understandable. Why should one take them off and risk forgetfulness? Nowadays, we face a much more daunting challenge. In the modern world, it is difficult to remember Hashem’s involvement even while wearing Tefillin.

We live in a world of fashion. Clothing are specialized and customized with different symbols, often flaunting a brand or designer name. These articles of clothing serve as fashion statements, aligning one’s self with a brand or group, often a sports team. As such, people wear these garments with a great deal of pride. Despite their secularity, designs have made their way even to Kippot. If people enjoy the luxury of wearing clothing that makes fashion statements, they should enjoy the theological statement made by wearing Tefillin. Even when we are not wearing our Tefillin, we should embrace the message they represent. Our relationship with Hashem, the miracles that He has done for us, and His creative splendor are things that should always be circulating in our minds. At times, the world can be an intimidating place. Man is essentially a lonely creature in this world. If we clothe ourselves in the thoughts of the Tefillin, we are sure to feel the warmth of HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s presence, even in the loneliest of times.

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