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It's All About Control

Thursday, 22 August, 2019 - 5:09 pm

Both this parsha and last, reference the mitzvah of Tefillin. There are actually two mitzvahs, the arm Tefillin (shel yad) and the head Tefillin (shel rosh). When the Torah instructs us regarding Tefillin, it is framed in a curious manner. To quote (Deut, 6:8): “And you shall bind them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be for totafot between your eyes.” With respect to the arm Tefillin there is an active command (you shall bind). For the head Tefillin, there is a passive command (they shall be). This difference is also reflected in the blessing that is recited over each one respectively. For the arm Tefillin the blessing ends with “commanded us to put on Tefillin” (active). While the blessing for the head Tefillin ends with “commanded us concerning the mitzvah of Tefillin” (passive).

The commentators derive from this, that the Mitzvah for the arm Tefillin is the momentary act of putting them on (binding). Whereas for the head Tefillin the Mitzvah is fulfilled for the entire duration of time that they are upon us. Why the difference?

One of the meanings of the Mitzvah of Tefillin, is to empower us to gain mastery over our thoughts and desires. For this reason we place the Tefillin near the heart (desires), and on the head (thoughts). Tanya explains at length, that few people are able to achieve full control over the nature of the desires that come to them. That being said, everyone, he argues, is capable of being in full control of their thoughts, speech and actions. To clarify: Most people cannot dictate what sort of desires arise in their heart. However, when an inappropriate desire does come to a person, they can choose to redirect their thought process to something else that is appropriate.

Yet despite our limitations, we are encouraged to try to master even the direction of our desires. So each morning we bind the tefillin on our arms, thereby fortifying ourselves in the moment to work toward that goal. There the Mitzvah ends. The Tefillin on our heads are to empower us to control our thoughts. This is an ongoing and constant obligation. As such, the Mitzvah is also ongoing for the duration of the time that the Tefillin are upon us.

This is called mindful living. Every moment of a person’s life is meant to be directed in a positive and G-dly manner. These special Mitzvahs help us to strengthen ourselves to achieve mindful living.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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