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Weekly Drash - Va'etchanan

Compliments of First Fruits of Zion
reprinted by permission of FFOZ

Va'etchanan - ואתחנן: "And I besought"
Torah : Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
Haftarah : Isaiah 40:1-26
Gospel : Acts 3-5 




Thought for the Week:

According to tradition, God’s tefillin are marked with the name of Israel just as Israel’s tefillin are marked with the name of God. Rabbi Nachman ben Yitzchak said to Rabbi Chiyya ben Abin, “What is written in the tefillin of the Lord of the Universe? — He replied to him: “And who is like your people Israel, one nation in the earth.” (b.Berachot 6a quoting Deuteronomy 33:29)



“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.” (Deuteronomy 6:8) This statute has been traditionally interpreted as the law of tefillin (phylacteries). Tefillin consist of small, hollow, black leather boxes that contain several parchments of relevant Scripture verses: Exodus 13:1–10; 13:11–16; Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 11:13–21. The small black boxes are bound on the arm and forehead by means of long, black leather straps, thus literally fulfilling the commandment of binding the Torah on the hand and the forehead.

The Master criticized certain Pharisees for broadening their tefillin, but it should go without saying that the Master Himself wore tefillin. In the days of the Master, the straps of the tefillin were far less encumbering than the modern version, and they were worn all day long. During the Hadrianic persecutions in the Second Century CE, Rome outlawed the wearing of tefillin. During those days, “Many Jews risked their lives in order to wear tefillin.” (b.Shabbat 130a) As a result, Jews began wearing tefillin only during the morning prayers, a practice which continues to this day.

The tefillin boxes bear the Hebrew letter shin ש, a sign indicating God’s Name. This has a connection with those passages of Revelation which speak of the saints who bear God’s Name upon their foreheads and the wicked who take the name of the beast on their arm and forehead.

There is some argument over whether the commandment of tefillin was meant to be taken literally, or if it is just a figurative language. In the Near East, it was once common for blood covenant partners to exchange amulet-like pouches which contained tokens, or even full copies, of their covenant obligations to one another. These were worn as bracelets or necklaces. The commandment of tefillin is consistent with that ancient ritual, especially when one considers the rabbinic tradition that God Himself wears tefillin with Israel’s name on them. In that sense, the tefillin are similar to wedding rings. In fact, while a Jew winds the black leather straps for tefillin of the hand about his middle finger like a ring, he recites the betrothal passage from the book of Hosea:

“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, a I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the LORD.” (Hosea 2:19–20)

The binding on of tefillin is a tangible, ritual reminder of our obligation to bind God’s commandments on our very lives. God’s Word is to be between our eyes, filtering all that we see and think. It is to be bound on our hands, weighing all that we set our hands to do.


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