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W8. Tying God's Word on Our Hands and Putting Then on Our Foreheads    [Make a Comment]

We are to tie God's words on Our hands and wear them on our foreheads.

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

Exodus 13:5-10 (Maimonides RP13; Meir MP82; 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 MP82; 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.

Deuetronomy 6:4-9 (Maimonides RP12-13, 15; Meir MP8-9, 12; Chinuch Ccw421-423)
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; Chinuch C421)
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 two commandments: (a) God's words tied on the hand, and (b) God's words worn on the forehead. The Orthodox position and that of the classical commentators is that these are intended by God to be done literally and so, during morning prayers, small leather boxes containing the Sh'ma portion of Scripture are strapped to the arm and forehead as reminders of God's commandments, and of His having brought us out of Egypt. They are called t'fillin (in English "phylacteries"). I address the wearing of t'fillin at some length in Mitzvah # W2, but some of what I say there bears repeating here as well.

I am inclined to view binding to the hand and forehead as metaphoric, but I cannot say that with certainty 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. On the other hand, a reason 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 signs for several different things. For example, 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. Consequently, this Mitzvah is worded as the pertinent Scriptures are worded, and not as a commandment to wear Orthodox style t'fillin. Each person wrestling with how to apply this Mitzvah is encouraged to receive personal guidance through prayer and the Ruach HaKodesh.

Since the way to make and use t'fillin is not defined in Scripture, one who chooses to wear something physical on the hand and head must either adopt the Orthodox practice or exercise individual creativity. One contemporary kind of t'fillin I have seen consists 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.

Whatever one decides, it is important to not get so involved in the physical details that one forgets what the Scriptures are seeking to remind us of, which is the Word of God. 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 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 do not recommend that traditional t'fillin be worn by Gentiles (K'rovei Yisrael excepted) or women, because they are historically and culturally associated with the morning prayers of Jewish men. I do not find objection with anyone designing and using non-traditional t'fillin in attempting to comply literally with the aforementioned Scriptures.

Commentators:
Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch interpret the aforesaid Scriptures as needing to wear traditional t'fillin during prayer. I do not take issue with them on that, but I believe they are wrong to associate the Exodus 13 Scriptures with t'fillin. The sign on the hand and reminder on the forehead in those Scriptures refer to eating matzah during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and to redeeming firstborn males.

Traditional T'fillin NCLA: JMo JFn KMo KFn GMn GFn

Non-traditional T'fillin NCLA: JMo JFo KMo KFo GMo GFo

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