Egypt and Tefillin
Rabbi Pinchas Rosenthal
Imagine all of us were at a Seder together. Not any ordinary Seder, but the very first one in Egypt. All of us have eaten a special wrap. A wrap composed of lamb meat, a condiment of bitter herbs and “lafa” like flexible Matza. We are dressed up to leave. We are overwhelmed with emotions and are excited with the possibilities for the future. We are also afraid to leave our homeland of so many years.
Over the course of the meal we discuss all the plagues that have struck Egypt so far. Will our dream come true?
We have been told by Moshe through the elders that we can not leave our homes tonight, for at the stroke of midnight Hashem will kill all the first born men, animals and destroy all the idols of Egypt. We shouldn’t rely on miracles to step outside into murderous night. “I see the blood of the Paschal Lamb which dad daubed with a hyssop bundle on the inside of each door post and the lintel. It is slowly dripping down; I guess there is nothing to the power of the Egyptian lamb gods. We will not get zapped. Moshe told us that this in fact saves us from the plague of the first-born. My father said by publicly killing and eating the gods of Egypt as a mitzvah it shows that we are worthy of being saved.”
I see myself leaving the conversation to peek out the window. Will this plague happen, I ask myself? How can this happen? Is it really possible? Will the Egyptians take revenge and attack us for this plague? All these thoughts are swirling in my mind, when suddenly I hear screams for help. Homes are being lit up in the darkness of the night. Grown men are running down the streets with children in their arms seeking medical attention. The miracle is happening. Cries for help, despair and shock echo through the city. My fears move me away from the window. I don’t know what will happen next. My family is transfixed in absolute quiet. We listen to all the noises. Are we next? Slowly, the realities of Moshe’s teachings over these past months begin to ring true.
The Ramban, on his commentary on the Torah at the end of Parashas Bo asks why are there so many mitzvos to remind us of the exodus from Egypt. We have all the mitzvoth of Pesach, Shabbos, tefillin, The redemption of the first born, the daily obligation to mention the Exodus from Egypt at the end of the Sh’ma, and to not afflict the convert…just to name a few.
The Ramban explains, that in that era in Egypt the prevailing philosophy was absolute materialism. They thought there was no greater cause than the universe itself and that the Universe always existed. People denied the existence of G-d, and that He is the creator, and by extension has the ability to intervene in Nature. They certainly denied Hashem’s awareness of human affairs, and his ability to communicate with man through prophecy.
All these basic principles of Judaism became clear to the person looking out the window seeing the plague of the first-born unfolding. The death of the first-born was a proof to all the Egyptian and Jewish skeptics. Clearly, a G-d who can identify, locate and kill all first-borns at the same moment is working outside the laws of nature and therefore must be the cause of the system of nature. Furthermore, Hashem’s covenant of kindness to the Forefathers was also shown to be true by the liberation of their children from the tyranny of Egypt. These are the ideas that I focus on as I tie my tefillin to my arm and head every day and fulfill the verse, “And it shall be for you a sign on your arm and a reminder between your eyes, so that Hashem’s Torah may be in your mouth, for with a strong hand Hashem removed you from Egypt.”
The tefillin are the jewelry that are designed to refine the way I see the world.