Hand Tefillin vs. Head Tefillin - ואתחנן

Thursday, 11 August, 2022 - 8:28 pm

Hand Tefillin vs. Head Tefillin 

There is a subtle but significant difference between how the Torah describes the commandment to don the hand tefillin and the head tefillin. In this week's Torah portion. The Torah states: 

And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes. (Deuteronomy 6:8)

The commandment to wear the hand tefillin is introduced by a verb "you shall bind", whereas the head tefillin are described as "they shall be", without a commandment to take a specific action. This led the gaon of Rogotchov to conclude that there is a distinction between the definition of the commandments. The definition of the Mitzvah of the hand tefillin is the act of tying. Therefore, the commandment applies only to the first moment one binds the hand tefillin. By contrast, the definition of the commandment to wear the head Tefillin is ongoing. "They shall be", implies that the Mitzvah applies not to the action of placing them on the head but rather to every moment that they are on the head. 

Although the Mitzvah to don the hand Tefillin applies only to the first moment, we nevertheless wear the hand Tefillin for as long as we wear the head Tefillin. But that is not because of the hand Tefillin per se, but rather as a result of wearing the head Tefillin. As the Talmud explains; 

The verse states: "And you shall bind them for a sign upon your arm and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes," and it is derived from here: As long as the Tefillin of the head are between your eyes, the number of Tefillin you are wearing shall be two. (Talmud, Menachot 36a)

The varying definitions are a result of the spiritual significance of the commandments. The hand Tefillin, which is placed on the arm near the heart, represents emotions. Since a person can't control what he will feel, there can be no ongoing commandment regarding emotions. The commandment is only to "bind them". Binding is not an act of transformation; we are not commanded to transform our hearts, for that is impossible for most people, but rather, binding indicates that we keep our heart under control, not to allow negative emotions to take over our behavior. The head Tefillin, by contrast, represents thought and awareness, which are areas where a person does have absolute control at any moment to direct his thoughts toward holiness and positivity, thus the Mitzvah is constant and ongoing. 

Ultimately, we are, however, able to affect our emotions indirectly. While one cannot change how one feels at any given moment, over time, the awareness of the mind does trickle down and affect the heart. Therefore, we wear the hand tefillin, as a result of and for as long as, we wear the head tefillin, in order to help facilitate the effect of the mind on the heart, ultimately instilling the love of G-d within our emotive experience. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 39 Vaeschanan 2


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