HMS 5764-30; Tephillin

Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg

June 6, 2004 – Number 5764-30


The Shema requires us to remember G-d, placing that remembrance upon our arm and between our eyes. This is the basic source of Tephillin. Tephillin consists of two black leather boxes containing the four passages Torah passages that speak about Tephillin (Deut 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Ex. 13:1-10; 13:11-16). The two boxes are not at all similar. The one that is worn on the head (Called “Shel Rosh”) has the imprint of the Hebrew Letter “Shin” on two sides, while the one worn on the arm (Called “Shel Yad”) is plain. The Shel Rosh has four compartments inside, one for each of the four passages inscribed on separate scrolls. The Shel Yad has only one compartment and all four passages are written on one scroll inside. The Shel Rosh has a strap that has a fixed loop that must be sized for the head that will be wearing it. The knot in that loop looks like a square with four compartments although there are some who have a knot that looks like a right angle with three compartments. This knot, when square, is called a “double daled” knot because it looks like two of the Hebrew letters “daled” placed opposite each other. The right angle knot is called a “single daled” because it looks like one “daled”. The ends of these straps are long and hang down past the hips. The Shel Rosh is worn with the box in the front, just above the hairline (or in case of baldness, where the hairline used to be) and the knot is placed in the back at the nape of the neck. The ends of the strap are brought around the front and hand over the shoulders. When the box is in place the blessing for the Shel Rosh is recited
The Shel Yad has a slip knot that has a long extension on it that looks like the letter “yod” The knot must always be touching the box (the cover for the Shel Yad may have a corner cut out so the knot will touch the box even when the Tephillin are wrapped up and stored away) The Shel Yad is worn on the “weak” hand (that is on the left for right-handers and on the right for left-handers) the box is place on the bicept with the knot on the inside of the arm. It is then tightened so that it stays in place. The blessing for the Shel Yad is then recited. The long strap is then wound around the lower part of the arm seven times above the wrist. The Shel Yad is then wrapped around the hand. There are many customs as to how the hand should be wrapped and the usual custom is to follow what your father or grandfather has done. If unsure, consult a Rabbi. All customs require that the strap be wound three times around the longest finger. Usually the straps will spell out the Hebrew word “Shadai” (that is “shin”, “daled” and “yod”) There is a special passage from the book of Hosea that is recited as we wind the strap around our finger.
The order of putting on Tephillin is to first put the Shel Yad on the arm but not wind it around the finger. Then put on the Shel Rosh, and then finish the Shel Yad. The boxes should touch the head and arm with nothing coming between them. All Jewish males over the age of 13 wear Tephillin and women who choose to do so may also wear them. For women it should not be a “once in a while” event, if a woman chooses to wear Tephillin, she should commit to wearing it every day. When taking off the Tephillin, one takes them off in the exact reverse order, first the hand, then the head and then the arm. They should be placed in the bag in such a way that the correct one will always be taken out in the proper order. Since Yad is put on first, it should be taken out first.
Tephillin are worn only for the weekday morning service. Since they are called “ot” meaning a “symbol” worn on the hand and on the head, they are not worn on Shabbat or Holidays which are also considered a symbol in their own right and we don’t need two symbols at the same time. The only time Tephillin are worn at Mincha, the afternoon service, is on Tisha B’av. When praying at home alone, when you first wake up in the morning, one should first take care of all hygenic needs, dress and then put on the Tephillin and pray. One can wear Tephillin without a minyan. There are many customs about whether or not to wear Tephillin on the intermediate days of holidays (Hol HaMoed) Our custom is not to wear them at all. Those who do wear them take them off before Hallel. On weekdays they are removed at the end of the service.
One stands when putting Tephillin on. Someone who is ill and cannot keep their body clean (i.e. diarrhea) should not wear Tephillin. Someone in severe pain should not wear Tephillin because they can not pay attention to their meaning. One should not sleep or eat while wearing Tephillin. It is usual to have Tephillin checked by a scribe twice in a seven year period or whenever there is a concern that the parchment may have been damaged. (i.e. from water)

Next week: Blessings for Different Occasions

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