(Torah Portion Bo) Compensation for All the Hard Work
There are two sections in this week’s parsha that contain the commandment to write and wear Tefilin – Phylacteries. These sections are two of the four sections that make up our Tefilin.
I recall reading a story of a Jewish teenager living in Communist Russia who acquired a Torah book and taught himself the laws based on his perception of the Five Books of Moshe. Not having ever seen Tefilin, he created Tefilin as he perceived them and wore them exactly between his eyes in accordance with the literal reading of the Torah! With the collapse of Communism he met a Rabbi and was finally exposed to the blend of the Written and Oral Torah and all the laws fell into place.
The way Tefilin are constructed and worn (and even the name Tefilin) is a prime example of how we are totally dependent on the Oral Torah to clarify the meaning of the Written Torah.
Tefilin are made up of two boxes, one is tied to one’s weaker arm and the second is worn on the head. Each box contains four scripts of the Torah which command to us the Mitzvah of Tefilin.
Because the holy names of G-d are inscribed on parchment as they appear in a Torah scroll in our Tefilin, they have a special sanctity and require one to have pure concentration when wearing them. Thus our custom is to only wear Tefilin during the morning prayers.
Because Tefilin is so sacred, one would expect to don them before performing the Mitzvah of Talit which is also worn during the morning service. However, the law indicates that we put on the Talis first because the Talis is worn all seven days of the week including Shabbos and Holidays, while Tefilin is only worn during the weekdays. The reason is: when it comes to a choice between two Mitzvos, the Mitzva which is performed more often takes precedence and is performed first.
You may ask: Why don’t we wear Tefilin on Shabbos and Holidays?
The Torah refers to Tefilin as an Os – sign. Due to its holy significance, Tefilin acts as a banner to our deep association with the Almighty.
The Torah calls the weekly Shabbos and Holidays an Os – sign, as well. The Shabbos and its observances were given specifically to the Jews to the exclusion of all other nations. Therefore, the Jew through his Shabbos observance testifies that G-d has a unique relationship with him.
The Mitzvah of Bris Mila – circumcision is also a sign that bears testimony to our unique relationship with G-d.
Hence we have three categories of Mitzvos that bear testimony to our special relationship with G-d.
The Torah commands that two witnesses are always required for testimony in court.
The Mitzvah of Bris, constantly testifies throughout one’s lifetime. A Bris is performed if the eighth day falls on Shabbos, even though generally causing blood to flow deliberately is prohibited on Shabbos.
During the week, the Mitzvah of Tefilin testifies together with the Bris, so we have two witnesses.
When the Shabbos arrives, its banner and testimony take the place of the Tefilin and it is therefore not necessary to wear them on Shabbos.
Question: If the observance of Shabbos reflects that G-d created the world in six days and ceased from creative activities on Shabbat, why is Shabbos reserved only for the Jews? Weren’t all nations and people affected by this as well?
Answer: G-d gave us the law of Shabbos only after He freed us from Egypt, as stated in the Shabbos law appearing in the Ten Commandment: “You shall remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt.” – The Shabbos day of rest was given to the Jews as compensation for all the severe labor and slavery that they put forth in Egypt. It is our sign and banner that G-d miraculously took us out of Egypt; an entitlement that no other nation or people can claim.
Wishing you a most restful, uplifting, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks