Tefillin: Bound to God

An arm against rocks while black tape is wrapped around the arm.

“This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the LORD is to be on your lips. For the LORD brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand.” — Exodus 13:9

In this month’s Limmud we will look at one of Judaism’s least understood rituals: the act of binding two black boxes and a number of black leather straps to our heads, arms, and hands. This practice is called “wrapping tefillin.” Although this ritual stems from the Bible and has been practiced uninterrupted for over 3,000 years, its purpose and meaning are not readily apparent to the bystander, or even to one who performs the ritual superficially. Yet, an examination behind the meaning of this observance yields a rich wellspring of teachings and inspiration.

Every morning, as we start the day anew, our heart may desire one thing, our head may think another, and our actions can end up completely different from either our desires or thoughts. However, as we will discover, the act of wearing tefillin is intended to unify the heart, mind, and actions for one singular purpose: the service of God. Tefillin serves as a potent connector between man and God. As we will study, the lessons from the observance of this ritual can teach us all how to live more intentionally, with greater meaning, and completely bound to God.

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