47. Tefillin

9:21 If a person wears a garment that requires tzitzis but lacks them, then he fails to fulfill an obligation of the Torah. We must therefore be aware of garments that have four square corners, such as ponchos or serapes. On occasion, a corner may need to be cut off in order to remove the obligation of tzitzis on a particular garment. Folding the corner and sewing it so it looks cut off does not suffice for this purpose; it may look like it’s gone but it’s really still there. Neglecting the mitzvah of tzitzis is a serious matter but fulfilling it properly is a source of tremendous merit.

10:1 The mitzvah of tefillin is very important; the entire Torah is compared to the tefillin by Exodus 13:9, which tells us to wear tefillin “so that God’s Torah may be in your mouth.” Failure to put on tefillin is like sinning against God with our bodies. Putting on invalid tefillin not only fails to fulfill the mitzvah, it causes a person to say blessings in vain, which is an additional serious matter. For this reason, one must only acquire tefillin from a reputable source, whom he trusts to ensure that they are valid. Unfortunately, many people buy from the least expensive vendor and there may be a reason his wares are the cheapest! One should invest as much thought and exercise as much caution in purchasing tefillin as he would in buying furniture, a car or some other major purchase. He should certainly not “cheap out” when it comes to something so integral in his daily relationship with God. A person should care for his tefillin, making sure the boxes and straps stay black and the stitching stays tight, and having them checked as needed. One area requiring extra care is the edges of the boxes, especially of the head tefillin, as these are subject to wear and tear. People who are scrupulous in the mitzvah of tefillin and who treat it with respect, such as by not engaging in idle chatter while wearing them, can anticipate great spiritual reward. The word “tefillin” is related to the word p’lilah, meaning judgment; this is because our tefillin testify that God’s Presence rests on the Jewish people. The Talmud in Menachos (35b) explains that Deuteronomy 28:10, “the nations of the world will see that the Name of God is called over you” refers to tefillin of the head, which bear letters of God’s Name. Because of this, one should avoid completely covering the tefillin of his head with his tallis.