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W2. Remembering and Walking in Awareness of God's Word    [Make a Comment]

We are to remember and be continually aware of God's Word.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):

Exodus 13:5-10 (Maimonides RP13; Meir MP8; Chinuch C421)
When ADONAI brings you into the land of the Kena'ani, Hitti, Emori, Hivi and Y'vusi, which he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you are to observe this ceremony in this month. For seven days you are to eat matzah, and the seventh day is to be a festival for ADONAI. Matzah is to be eaten throughout the seven days; neither hametz nor leavening agents are to be seen with you throughout your territory. On that day you are to tell your son, 'It is because of what ADONAI did for me when I left Egypt.' Moreover, it will serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder between your eyes, so that ADONAI's Torah may be on your lips; because with a strong hand ADONAI brought you out of Egypt. Therefore you are to observe this regulation at its proper time, year after year.

Exodus 13:11-16 (Maimonides RP13; Meir MP8; Chinuch C421)
When ADONAI brings you into the land of the Kena'ani, as he swore to you and your ancestors, and gives it to you, you are to set apart for ADONAI everything that is first from the womb. Every firstborn male animal will belong to ADONAI. Every firstborn from a donkey, you are to redeem with a lamb; but if you choose not to redeem it, you must break its neck. But from people, you are to redeem every firstborn son. When, at some future time, your son asks you, 'What is this?' then say to him, 'With a strong hand ADONAI brought us out of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery. When Pharaoh was unwilling to let us go, ADONAI killed all the firstborn males in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of humans and the firstborn of animals. This is why I sacrifice to ADONAI any male that is first from the womb of an animal, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.' This will serve as a sign on your hand and at the front of a headband around your forehead that with a strong hand ADONAI brought us out of Egypt.

Numbers 15:38-40 (Maimonides RP14; Meir MP10; Chinuch C386)
Speak to the people of Isra'el, instructing them to make, through all their generations, tzitziyot on the corners of their garments, and to put with the tzitzit on each corner a blue thread. It is to be a tzitzit for you to look at and thereby remember all of ADONAI's mitzvot and obey them, so that you won't go around wherever your own heart and eyes lead you to prostitute yourselves; but it will help you remember and obey all my mitzvot and be holy for your God.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (Maimonides RP12-13; Meir MP8-9; Chinuch C421-423)
Sh'ma, Yisra'el! ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad [Hear, Isra'el! ADONAI our God, ADONAI is one]; and you are to love ADONAI your God with all your heart, all your being and all your resources. These words, which I am ordering you today, are to be on your heart; and you are to teach them carefully to your children. You are to talk about them when you sit at home, when you are traveling on the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them on your hand as a sign, put them at the front of a headband around your forehead, and write them on the door-frames of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 11:18-20 (Maimonides RP13, 15; Meir MP12; Chinuch C421, 423)
Therefore, you are to store up these words of mine in your heart and in all your being; tie them on your hand as a sign; put them at the front of a headband around your forehead; teach them carefully to your children, talking about them when you sit at home, when you are traveling on the road, when you lie down and when you get up; and write them on the door-frames of your house and on your gates.

Matthew 23:5
Everything they do is done to be seen by others; for they make their t'fillin broad and their tzitziyot long ...

Mark 6:56
Wherever he went, in towns, cities or country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the tzitzit on his robe, and all who touched it were healed. (See also Matthew 9:20, 14:36; Luke 8:44)

This Mitzvah combines several commandments, each referring to something physical to help the Israelites remember the commandments of God and His having brought us out of Egypt. There are four kinds of these reminders: (a) something worn on the hand; (b) something worn on the forehead; (c) tzitziyot1 containing a blue thread worn on the clothing; (d) something affixed to the doorpost and gates of one's house. The Orthodox position and that of the classical commentators is that each of these is intended by God to be done literally, but some argue that the first three are metaphoric and the fourth can be complied with in other ways.

I will address the first three as a group because they appear together in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and again in Deuteronomy 11:18-20. The traditional interpretation of (a) and (b) is that, during morning prayer, small leather boxes containing the Sh'ma portion of Scripture are strapped to the arm and forehead as a reminder of God's commandments, and His having brought us out of Egypt. They are called t'fillin (in English "phylacteries"). The traditional interpretation of (c) is that each door in a Jewish home (some say only an exterior door) must have affixed to its doorpost, an enclosure containing the same portion of Scripture as in the t'fillin, to remind all who pass through the door of the commandments of God. This enclosure with its Scripture is called a "m'zuzah".

I am inclined to view binding to the hand and forehead as metaphoric and placing on the doorposts of houses as literal, but they are found in adjacent verses of Scripture and, by normal principles of exegesis, the three of them should therefore be viewed all one way or all the other. On the other hand, I cannot say that the three of them are metaphoric and that wearing t'fillin is a misapplication of Scripture because, in Matthew 23:5, Yeshua criticizes the Pharisees for how they construct and wear their t'fillin, but He does not admonish for wearing them. Nevertheless, an argument for believing that binding to the hand and forehead is not meant to be literal is that the expression "as a sign on your hand and as a reminder between your eyes" is found in Scripture as a sign of several different things. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 appears to be saying that God's commandments are a sign, Exodus 13:5-10 appears to be saying that matzah is a sign, and Exodus 13:11-16 appears to be saying that redeeming the firstborn is a sign.

Wearing tzitziyot containing a thread of blue is clearly intended to be literal and is consistent with the simple four-cornered style of garments worn during the time of Moses; also, Yeshua apparently wore them (Matthew 9:20, 14:36; Luke 8:44). The question that modern Jews must answer for themselves is whether God intends tzitziyot to be worn today when the type and style of clothing is not as before. In Orthodox Jewish communities all men wear tzitziyot, and there is discussion about whether they are also appropriate for women to wear, but women normally do not wear them. In communities that have not adopted a position on the wearing of tzitziyot, each individual must make his own decision about whether to wear them as described in Scripture or to substitute some other article of clothing or accessory that will accomplish the same thing - reminding anyone seeing it of the Word of God.

What fringes are is self-evident, so the remaining decisions (other than whether to wear them at all) are what to construct them of, whether and how to knot them, what the color and origin of the blue dye for the thread should be, and what articles of clothing to attach them to. Since the only requirement in Scripture is that they be placed on the corners of garments, unless one's community defines the particulars of acceptable tzitziyot, the wearer can use his own judgment on all of these. The orthodox Jewish community has adopted detailed rules for manufacturing tzitziyot which their male members wear under their shirts or vests and attached to a special four-cornered garment called a tallit katan. Tzitziyot are also worn on the traditional rectangular prayer shawl, the tallit gadol.

The way to make and use t'fillin is not defined in Scripture, so one who chooses to wear them either adopts the Orthodox construction and usage, or exercises individual creativity. One contemporary kind of t'fillin I have seen consisted of a cloth bracelet and headband, both embroidered with words from Scripture; the bracelets were worn the entire day, and the headband only during prayer. The same latitude exists for making and placing m'zuzot. I have seen them made from tubes of diverse materials containing hand-written parchments or pieces of paper, and also made in the form of wood and ceramic plaques on which were engraved words of Scripture.

It is important not to get so involved in the details of these "reminders" that we forget what they are supposed to remind us of, which is the Word of God. We are not only to be reminded by them, but to be made continually aware of God's Word as we proceed through each day. This is the sense I receive from the Numbers 15 Scripture that speaks of not going around after where our own heart and eyes leads us, and from the Deuteronomy 6 Scripture that speaks also of talking about God's words as we walk by the way.

These commandments were given to the Israelites thousands of years ago and those who heard them directly from Moses no doubt knew exactly what God meant because, if they didn't, they could have asked Moses to clarify. We are living in an age where many things have changed - clothing styles, home styles, life styles, work schedules, etc., and we do not have Moses with us to ask. We do, however, have God Himself with us in the person of the Ruach HaKodesh, so it is to Him that each of us should appeal for clarification. I came to my own conviction about wearing tzitziyot in this very way. Because I understood the principle behind wearing them, I considered wearing a necklace of the tablets of the Torah instead, reasoning that they too would remind me and others of the Word of God. However, after praying to God for guidance, the guidance I received was that God wanted me to wear tzitziyot because His plans for me (as well as for other Jews), made it important that I be perceived as a Jew who respected the community's tradition. I recommend this "New Covenant" approach of seeking guidance from the Ruach HaKodesh for not only these matters, but for all of life's questions, because the Ruach was made available to us for that very purpose.

In summary, I lean toward believing that the commandment to place God's words on our hands, foreheads, and doorposts are meant as metaphors to impress on us that God's Word must form what we do, what we think. I cannot say so for sure, however, because of the Matthew 23:5 Scripture I mentioned earlier. I can go either way regarding m'zuzot, but it is clear to me that the commandment to wear tzitziyot is meant to be literal (see the Scriptures indicating that Yeshua wore them), but that God may allow substitutions on an individual basis. I do, however, consider the traditionally literal ways of observance to be valid implementations of the Scriptures so long as their broader message is understood and pursued. One likely case for God allowing or even desiring substitution in all of these may be for Gentiles, because what the commandments seek to accomplish are applicable to them, but the traditional ways of observance have become almost completely associated with being Jewish. Another case for substitution would be for women, for whom the commandments are also applicable, but the traditional ways of observance have become almost completely associated with being male. For more in this subject, see Mitzvot # W5, # W6 and # W8.

Dan Juster:
I think binding on the hand and head were more likely to be metaphorical because it has to do with dedication of the mind and actions. However, I think affixing to the doorpost could be meant as a literal reminder, and the fringe is unquestionably literal. Also, a blue fringe is a symbol of royalty, so it reminds the Jewish wearer of God's Word in the context of Israel being a royal priesthood.

Commentators:
Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch interpret these Scriptures ultra-literally and most of their writing about them consists of details of construction and use. I believe they are wrong to associate the Exodus 13 Scriptures with t'fillin. There the sign on the hand and reminder on the forehead refers to eating matzah during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.


1. fringes


T'fillin & Tzitzit  NCLA: JMo JFn KMo KFn GMn GFn

M'zuzot  NCLA: JMr JFr KMr KFr GMo GFo

Tzitziyot  NCLA: JMr JFo KMr KFo GMn GFn

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