God's Tefillin

Moshe Ben-Chaim

(Berakhot 6a) "Ravin son of Rav Ada asked, "What is the source that God wears Tefillin?" 

The Talmud makes derivations from various Torah verses, ultimately validating that God "wears" Tefillin. Of course, this Talmudic portion can – in no way – be taken literally, since: 1) God is not able to "wear" Tefillin, as He is not physical as are Tefillin, and 2) He does not perform the commands He gave man. For commands are to perfect those who are imperfect! They apply to those ignorant of such perfecting activities, and God knows all, and is perfect. As so many great Sages taught, including King Solomon (Proverbs) and Abraham son of Maimonides (intro to Ain Yaakov) the Rabbis speak in riddles and metaphors. This portion must be understood metaphorically.

The Talmud asks a central question: "What is written in Hashem's Tefillin? R. Chiya bar Avin says, "And who is like Israel, a unique nation in the land!"  God told Israel, "You made Me unique by reciting 'Listen Israel; God is our God, God is One' – I will make you unique [by reciting] 'And who is like Israel, a unique nation in the land?"

To unravel this metaphor, we must identify the central point, and that is: what is "written in God's Tefillin?" as the Talmud metaphorically suggests. Since the main question is concerning God's Tefillin (Tefillin contain texts) we must focus on the 'text' the Rabbis suggest are "written in God's Tefillin". 

We also note the reciprocal relationship between Israel's claim of God's Oneness, and then God's response that Israel too is unique, and One. This too is a central point.

Tefillin must be defined. OUR Tefillin that is. These boxes contain the Shema: our proclamation of monotheism. The Torah teaches that when other nations see our Tefillin, they will see God's name on them, and they will fear the Jews. They will recognize their fabricated religions as fabrications, and that the Jews are distinguished by God's providence. This frightens the idolatrous nations; when they realize their lives of idolatry are false. The nations are also frightened by the insurmountable task of battling those, whom God favors. But God want's all nations to follow Him. He only gave the Jews – and no other – a Torah, since they possessed true monotheistic ideas received from Abraham. It was due to Abraham that God spread His providence over Abraham's descendants. 

So when the Jews proclaim the Shema, "Listen Israel; God is our God, God is One", God in turn increases the Jews' recognition, fame and distinction, so ALL nations might learn to fear and love God. That is what it means that "God's Tefillin state that Israel is unique". This means that just as man's Tefillin have the purpose to distinguish the Creator as One, God in turn amplifies this crucial message by giving Israel – the monotheistic proclaimers – a global voice. God – as it were – "wears Tefillin" that duplicate Israel's attempt at claiming God's Oneness. By distinguishing Israel, God in fact assists His plan to help the entire world recognize what is true, and abandon falsehood. 

Had we understood this Talmudic portion literally, we would ascribe to God physical properties that allow Him to wear physical Tefillin, and this is the worst sin. This is idolatry. Additionally, it would be no praise to God that He simply wears Tefillin. What praise is that? 

What is true, is that this is a metaphor that sustains the truth that God is not physical. It also teaches that His "Tefillin" is really a metaphor for His actions of favoring the Jew in real acts of kindness on Earth. "Actions" are praiseworthy; merely wearing Tefillin is not. This is in contrast to a literal and foolish understanding where God does no acts for Israel, but simply "wears Tefillin". 

Succos is the holiday when in the future, all nations will bring sacrifices to God, with Israel. The entire world will recognize that "we have inherited falsehood from our fathers". (Jeremiah, 16:19) It is the Jews' role to teach all peoples the Torah. We must not cower and thereby hide truth from our fellow man. As Abraham exemplified, we too must be concerned wit God's creations...all of them. We must courageously, gently, but religiously, make truth available. 

Our greatest kings are descendants from Ruth the convert...and so will be the Messiah. Our greatest Sages were converts. The Torah says numerous times, "One law for the Jew and the convert". No man is superior by birth; only by his or her choices. If one feels a Jew has a superior soul, or is better than any other human to whom God granted life, that person violates God's words.

Yom Kippur just passed; we were atoned for our sins, the greatest sin being our lack of Torah study. It is only through Torah study that we will recognize the truth, and exemplify it for all mankind. 

May we all take it upon ourselves to abandon the practice of seeking self-aggrandizement, to bury the words "superior Jew", to earnestly seek out teachers who will show us God's words, and ultimately pave the road for Messiah, the descendant of Ruth the Moabite convert whom God loved.