What Are Tefillin For?

Rabbi Aron Moss contributes regular Q&A commentaries to Gather the Jews.  Rabbi Moss is the proprietor of Nefesh and can be reached at rabbimoss@nefesh.com.au.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rabbi Moss.

Question of the Week:

I was looking through my closet at my parents’ place and found my old pair of Tefillin. I haven’t worn them since we left school. I know that we put these black boxes on our head and our arm next to our heart, but other than that, I have no idea what they are about. Do you have an explanation for what Tefillin are?

Answer:

Our personality has three layers to it – intellect, emotion and action; what we think, what we feel and what we do.

  • Intellect: My opinions on issues, philosophies on life and attitudes to myself and others.
  • Emotion: My moods, desires and passions; what I love and what I hate, what I am scared of and what attracts me.
  • Action: Not my beliefs or feelings, but what I actually do, how I live my life, and how I spend my time and energy.

Ideally, these three faculties should be in sync. My beliefs and ideals should direct my passions and ambitions, which should in turn be translated into my lifestyle. But so often we find this is not the case. What I know is right doesn’t always feel right, and what I feel like doing is not necessarily what I do.

  • I know I should go and help my mother bring in the shopping, but I feel like staying on the couch eating chips. Then I hear my phone ring, and jump up to answer it.
  • I know I shouldn’t lie to cover up my mistakes, and I feel guilty about it, but I do it anyway.
  • My mind tells me that I am in a damaging relationship, but my heart is too scared to leave. I act as if everything’s fine.

One of the greatest challenges in life is to try to overcome this mind-heart-body disconnect – to develop the right attitude in the mind, positive desires in the heart and to then live up to it and do the right thing. This isn’t easy.

That’s where Tefillin come in. The Tefillin help to achieve a spiritual alignment of mind, heart and body; uniting our thoughts, feelings and actions towards a power higher than all three.

These black boxes are holy objects, tiny treasure chests charged with immense divine power. We place one box on the head – the home of intellect, with its straps dangling down over the heart – the seat of emotion. Then the other box rests on the forearm next to the heart, with its straps wrapped around the arm and hand – the tools of action.

The head Tefillin binds our minds to the divine will, that we should know what’s right and wrong. The straps dangle down so that this knowledge should flow into our heart and become a passion and excitement for goodness. And the passion resting in our heart should in turn be translated into action, that we live a life of meaning and purpose, based on clear morals and pure passions.

Could you do with some mind-heart-body alignment? I need it every day.

All the best,

Rabbi Moss