Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh
Order of Putting on Tefillin
Past columns have discussed various aspects of the mitzva of tefillin. In this column we will put together some of these insights to see how the entire order of putting on tefillin carries a powerful message of proper priorities in spiritual growth.
TIME OF TEFILLIN
Actually, the mishna gives a number of signs which tell us when this time has arrived, for example the time when we can distinguish a dog from a wolf. Even though the actual times are roughly the same, the halakha chose to use specifically the criterion of being able to distinguish one’s friend. This teaches an important moral lesson: before we are permitted to worry about our spiritual level by performing “religious” mitzvot like tefillin, we must be on an acceptable humane level where we are capable of discerning and recognizing our fellow man.
A CLEAN BODY
Rav Kook explains how this miracle relates to the idea of cleanliness for tefillin. He writes that tefillin represent the unique spiritual level of the chosen Jewish people, who have a unique covenant with HaShem. However, this level needs to be built upon a solid foundation of integrity and thoughtful conduct in everyday affairs. This is the Divine inheritance of all mankind, and is expressed through the mundane but crucial prerequisite of “a clean body”. Once this foundational, universal element of derekh eretz is firmly ingrained, the tefillin are like birds wings which enable us to soar above this level (Shabbat 49a and Ein Ayah commentary).
ORDER OF THE TWO TEFILLIN
So we see that the “ladder of spirituality” is as follows: We need to start with ordinary humanity, or menschkeit – acknowledging our fellow human being. From there we can progress to moral integrity. Afterwards it is appropriate to sanctify our acts, and then our thoughts.
DEVIATIONS FROM THE IDEAL
Cleanliness: Tefillin can never be worn without a clean body. This teaches that without integrity no spiritual elevation is possible.
Order of tefillin: The order of hand and head tefillin is important enough that we pass over the head tefilla to don the hand tefilla first (SA OC 25:6). Yet if we lack the hand tefilla we should put on the head tefilla alone, and vice versa (SA OC 26).
Even though proper acts should precede and serve as the basis for our pure thoughts, there may be situations where there are psychological or practical obstacles to improving our behavior. Someone who finds it impossible to completely sanctify his acts - who can not start with his hand tefilla - should not be discouraged from forging ahead with his spiritual growth according to his ability, and should go ahead and put on his head tefilla. And obstacles to sanctifying the intellect should not deter us from taking the first step and repairing our conduct - if we do not have a head tefilla, we should go ahead and put on the hand tefilla.
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