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Tefillin: Binding Heart, Mind and Hand


Jewish Tefillin are some of the more mysterious Jewish ritual objects. They are a small set of black leather boxes worn with leather straps on the forehead and upper arm. They contain scrolls of parchment inscribed with particular passages from the Torah. Wearing the tefillin is commanded in the Torah and mentioned several times, but most significantly in Deuteronomy 6:8, “Tie them [G-d’s commandments] as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.”


The Tefillin Torah Passages


Inside the small leather boxes are parchments written by a Sofer, a highly trained and practiced Jewish scribe. The parchments contain specific Torah passages from the books Deuteronomy and Exodus:


The Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which pronounces that G-d is the one and true G-d.


The Ve-haya Im Shemoa, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, which assures reward to those who follow the commandments of the Torah and warns of reprimand for those who do not.


The Kadesh Li, Exodus 13:1-10, which imparts to the Jewish people to remember and honor G-d’s redemption of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.


The Ve-haya Ki Yeviehcha, Exodus 13:11-16, which explains that is it every Jewish person’s obligation to inform his children of the matters in the other three passages.


These excerpts serve as pronouncement of the Jewish notion of G-d. Two of the four Torah passages directly reference the Exodus from Egypt. This is because this event convinced the Jewish people that their enduring faith in the one true G-d was confirmed.


How to wear the Tefillin


The traditional Jewish tefillin consist of two small leather boxes with leather straps. One of the boxes is placed upon the left arm. The leather strap is wound around the left hand and middle finger and up the arm. The box sits on the bicep so it will rest on against the heart. The other box is placed on the forehead and is tied around on the back of the head with one strap over each shoulder.


The placement of the boxes is quite purposeful as it draws the wears attention to the head, hand and heart. This is to train the user that in their service to G-d that it should be in all they think, do and feel. Additionally, it tells the wearer not to just act with the head or the heart, but that all three the hand, head and heart should act as one.



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