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Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin

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Every weekday the Jew puts on tefillin, affirming his inviolable bond with G-d. But what is not so well known is that there are two types of tefillin -- Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam -- and it is incumbent on all male Jews to put on both. On Shabbos Parshas Pekudei, 5741, and on Purim 5736, the Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke on this topic, urging all Jews to fulfill the Shulchan Aruch’s injunction to put on both pair of tefillin.
Every day of the year other than Shabbos, Yom Tov, and Chol HaMoed, the male Jew from the age of thirteen puts on tefillin (phylacteries), following the Torah command "You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes." They are not mere ornaments, worn as some relic of ancient Jewish ritual, but are a living demonstration of our attachment to G-d, a daily sign of our relationship to the Al-mighty. In the words of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi in his Siddur (p. 12): "When one puts on tefillin, he should bear in mind that the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded us to write on the parchment contained in the tefillin the four specific Biblical passages (Shemos 13:1-10;11-16; Devarim 6:4-9; 11:13-21) which mention His Unity and the Exodus from Egypt, in order that we remember the miracles and wonders He performed for us. They indicate His Unity and demonstrate that He has power and dominion over those above and below, to do with them as He wishes. And He has enjoined us to place the tefillin on the arm adjacent to the heart, and on the head over the brain so that we submit our soul which is in the brain, as well as the desires and thoughts of our heart, to His service. Thus, by putting on tefillin, one will be mindful of the Creator and restrict his pleasures."

Perhaps not so well known is that there are two types of tefillin -- Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam. The tefillin laid upon the head is divided into four sections, each containing its own Torah passage written on parchment. There is no disagreement as to which Torah passages are contained therein, but there are differing views as to which order the four passages are to be arranged inside the tefillin. It is on this that the views of Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam differ.

The universal custom among Jews has been to wear tefillin arranged according to Rashi’s opinion. However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim Ch. 34), the Jewish Code of Law that is binding on all Jews, states: "The G-d fearing person should fulfill both opinions (Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam) by procuring two pair of tefillin (one with its Torah passages arranged in the order laid out by Rashi, and one according to the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam) and donning both of them."[1]

Although this obligation to put on two pair of tefillin applies to every Jew there are some whose very status absolutely demands it. For although a person’s fear of G-d is a private matter, not to be intruded upon by others, there are some positions which by their very nature demand that their occupants be G-d-fearing. Rabbis, heads of Yeshivahs, spiritual advisors, etc., hold their positions because they are assumed to be G-d-fearing men. And so the words of the Shulchan Aruch "the G-d-fearing person should fulfill both opinions . . . and don both of them" most certainly apply to them. In these situations, no false modesty can be proffered as an excuse.

But, comes the protest, in the previous generation there were many truly G-d-fearing Rabbis and Yeshivah heads who did not put on two pair of tefillin. Why should we be different? We must recognize, however, that their circumstances were very different from our own. Life was a continuous struggle, to eke out the most meager of existences a task of the greatest difficulty. A pair of good tefillin was very expensive, and it was literally impossible to find enough money to buy a second pair of tefillin (Rabbeinu Tam). Hence, their inability to buy and put on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin did not indicate any deficiency in their fear of G-d. Rather, they labored mightily just to find a valid reason to justify the fact that they could not put on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. But had they had the means, they most certainly would have.

Today, however, we have no such excuse. Think of all the luxuries we take for granted, all the indulgences we so frivolously waste money on. May we suggest foregoing the latest-model car and using the money saved to buy Rabbeinu Tam tefillin? No one need deprive himself of any necessities in order to buy a pair of Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. It is but a small price to pay to fulfill the dictates of the Shulchan Aruch and be a "G-d-fearing" person.

And let no one piously object with the claim that he does not wish to differ from the customs of his forebears who were unable to put on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. Do such people so zealously follow all the practices and customs of their forefathers? Their ancestors did not waste precious time and resources on such things as reading newspapers and other trivialities. Why is it only when it comes to excusing oneself from doing good things, such as putting on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, that such zealots suddenly awaken with their pious claims of following in their forebears’ footsteps? Do not use our holy ancestors as an excuse for personal shortcomings!

Consider further the differences between previous generations and ours. Our forebears were steeped in Torah, they breathed with it, walked with it, lived with it; they knew no other life. Today, secular knowledge and influences surround and permeate us from all sides, coarsening our minds, weakening our resolve. We need extra strength to combat this, to remain pure in our service to G-d -- precisely that which is acquired from tefillin. To repeat that which we quoted at the beginning: "He has enjoined us to place the tefillin on the arm adjacent to the heart, and on the head over the brain so that we submit our soul which is in the brain, as well as the desires and thoughts of our heart, to His service." In our generation, it has become imperative to wear both pair of tefillin, to ensure the greater submission of brain and heart.

Let us be honest. Much as we like to view ourselves as stalwart independents, unmindful of the opinions of others, we are in reality quite different. Our actions tend to be shaped not only by the opinions of others, but even by their anticipated reactions. Is it not more a fear of anticipated jibes such as "when did you become so religious?" that prevents us from putting on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin? The derisive smirk, the cynical sneer -- these are powerful weapons, and many a person has cringed and backed away from them. It is not a coincidence the Shulchan Aruch begins with the words "Do not be ashamed before the scoffers." Each of us must decide what is more important -- fear of people or fear of G-d.

One last point: On the verse "And all the people of the earth shall see that the name of the L-rd is called upon you, and they shall be afraid of you" the Talmud (Berachos 6a) comments that the words" the name of the L-rd is called upon you" refer to the tefillin worn on the head. Our times are turbulent ones, with every hand raised against the Jew. Now is surely the time to increase "the name of the L-rd is called upon you," wearing also Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, thus assuring ourselves of the fulfillment of the latter part of the verse "they shall be afraid of you." We are in the era of Mashiach. Adding another mitzvah -- putting on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin -- will make his coming that much quicker, that much easier. Then we will see the fulfillment of G-d’s promise that "you shall dwell in your land safely, and I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid . . . and I will lead you upright."

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) In addition to Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam, there are various other opinions concerning tefillin, with some people putting on as many as four pairs. But this is only for unique individuals, whereas the Shulchan Aruch makes it clear that everyone should put on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin (in addition to Rashi's). There are various customs as to when to put them on, and what prayers to be said wearing them.


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