Q&A Feb. 2018

Tefillin’s Purpose: God’s Mighty Hand

Question: Of all Torah concepts, why is God’s “mighty hand” (repeated four times) which redeemed us from Egypt committed to sacred writing inside the tefillin (Exod. 13:1-16), which are worn on our heads and on our arms facing our hearts? Are no other concepts fit for such practice? And what about the wearing of boxes containing this Torah portion on our “heads and arms?”

Rabbi: Our heads and our hearts represent our minds and our emotions; our two faculties over which we determine our values and our choices. It was only through the Exodus that we were freed to engage both faculties. God’s “mighty hand” refers to His unparalleled power through which Egypt’s gods were vanquished and dismissed of any truth or value. 

Not once did Pharaoh request that his magicians terminate any of the ten plagues, but he always sought Moses to beseech God. For Pharaoh recognized the true God, but God hardened his heart so he might receive his just rewards for his evil, that the world might know that God gives man only so far to repent and no further, and that God’s fame would fill the Earth.

Wearing tefillin on our bodies is an essential daily reminder of that freedom—our bodily movements—and of that redemption that God granted us. At the Passover seder we state that had God not freed us back then, we today, our children and our grandchildren would still be slaves to Pharaoh. We must grasp this sensual visual of our bodies wrapped in tefillin and recognize that the two—our bodily freedom and God’s Exodus—are not unrelated, but that tefillin’s portions describing God’s “mighty hand” commemorate the very cause of our freedom. Wearing tefillin on our physical bodies relates that our physical freedom was due to the events described in the tefillin: God’s mighty hand went unopposed by Egypt’s lifeless stone deities. Our minds and our emotions are free to follow God because He freed us for that purpose of following His commands.

Why Doesn’t God Make Miracles Occur Instantaneously?

Question: Why couldn’t the plagues occur instantaneously, like Creation, which was the sudden split-second existence of a massive universe from nothingness? Of what lesson is it that the splitting of the Reed Sea was effectuated by an east wind that “blew all night?” (Exod. 14:21) We again see this in a prior case in the plague of locusts where “the east wind blew all day and all night” (Exod. 10:13) which brought the locusts?” As God instantly created the world from nothingness, He could have—in a split second—rendered the sea split without wind. The same applies to the locusts. Why this delay and use of nature?

Rabbi: Yes, God created the entire universe from nothing; it is amazing. But I would also call it “unfathomable.” But that was then, and this—miracles—is now. “Now” referring to the existence of a species of beings possessing intelligence. Before man’s existence there would be no purpose in operating with natural law, as there would be no impression offered; no intelligent life form existed that might perceive the precise design of natural miracles. Evidently God wants there to be something fathomable in the miracles cited above, and in all miracles. Not one of the 10 plagues were unrelated to nature. Hail did not “suddenly appear” mid-air, but it descended, as all precipitation does. The lice were not made from nothingness, but from the sand. Blood was a transformation of an existing body of water, and so it was true about the remaining seven plagues…except for the death of the firstborns. 

Had God instantaneously split the sea, the human mind would be disengaged as there was no evident cause (mind only works with sensory perception). As God created the universe as evidence of His wisdom, He desires that man study recurring laws which we call “nature.” Detecting patterns and causal relationships is only possible if the laws that we study are sustained. But if nature changed every second or if events took place that were unfathomable, our minds would be disengaged as such phenomena would offer no opportunity to reflect on God’s wisdom. Man would attribute such instantaneous miracles to some imaginary force outside of nature, disconnected from the Creator of nature, precisely because he cannot connect it to a physical cause. He would assume a force outside of God. As God does not want our minds to be disengaged but rather to be engaged, for the purpose of recognizing Him—and this does not benefit God at all but it is for man’s good—God utilized natural causes such as winds to bring about the miracles in order that man attribute the miracles to the Creator and Controller of natural law. Creation itself intends to offer man an observable harmonious system through which he detects great wisdom and attributes it to the Cause of what he sees before his eyes. God’s miracles too are displays of His natural design and His ability to alter it.

 Therefore, God does not make instantaneous changes that would confound our minds, but He uses physical causes to engage man’s mind and stand in awe of Him as the “Creator.”