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Home » Vayetze

Vayetze: Teffilin, The Bond of Love

Submitted by on November 12, 2006 – 12:54 amNo Comment | 2,461 views

Cross Roads

Just before Jacob left his father in law, Laban’s, home, he fulfilled the Mitzvah of Teffilin, phylacteries. (1)

That Jacob knew about teffilin does not surprise us, out sages taught that our patriarchs and matriarchs studied the Torah and observed its commandments.(2) (3)

What is surprising is the context. The Torah does not tell us that Jacob donned teffilin throughout his life, which he probably did. The Torah only mentions it this one time, just before he left Laban’s home. What is the connection between leaving Laban’s home and  teffilin?

Abraham fathered two sons, Isaac fathered two sons, but Jacob didn’t father sons, he fathered a nation. Jacob’s sons are often described in the Torah as tribes, rather than sons. When did Jacob’s family become a nation?

When he left his father in law’s home and returned to the land of Israel.

As Jacob prepared to leave Laban’s home he laid the groundwork for the birth of the Jewish nation. This was a critical moment. It was a crossroads between failure and success. The Mitzvah of teffilin was crucial to his success in establishing the Jewish nation.

Teffilin, The Bond of Love

Our sages teach that every time we perform a Mitzvah here in this world G-d mirrors our action by performing a parallel Mitzvah in the higher realm. Accordingly, when a Jew dons teffilin, G-d too dons teffilin. (4)

It would be ludicrous to suggest that G-d dons an actual pair of teffilin for G-d is  incorporeal. When we say that G-d dons teffilin we mean that G-d activates the spiritual flow that is released through teffilin.

Teffilin consist of two leather boxes, one wrapped around the bicep, the other wrapped around the head. Parchment scrolls are inserted into the boxes onto which select portions of the Torah are inscribed. The first verse inscribed on these scrolls is the immutable proclamation of Jewish faith, “Hear O’ Israel, G-d is the Lord, G-d is one.”

The binding gives external expression to our internal convictions. teffilin, the bond of love - innerstreamOur hearts and minds are devoted to G-d during prayer and teffilin expresses this attachment in a physical sense. The teffilin are wrapped around the upper bicep, opposite the heart, to symbolize devotion of the heart. Teffilin are also wrapped around the head to symbolize devotion of our minds. (5)

When we say that G-d dons teffilin, the bond of love, we mean that He stimulates His love for and attachment to us. When we stimulate our love for and attachment to G-d, He responds in kind. When we bind ourselves to G-d He binds Himself to us. (6)

This explains why the Talmud declares that the Divine teffilin contain the verse, “Who is like your people Israel, a single nation on earth.” Our sages were not suggesting that G-d wraps Himself with a physical scroll upon which these words are inscribed. They were simply referring to the divine flow of love from a single G-d to a single Nation. (7)


We now understand why we are told that Jacob observed the Mitzvah of teffilin at this a critical juncture in the formation of our nation. By teaching us of Jacob’s timing the Torah underscores the symbiotic bond that is cemented through tefilin.

The transformation of his family into a nation was a complex and difficult undertaking and Jacob knew he was in need of Divine assistance. At this point it was appropriate to emphasize his own bond with G-d through the Mitzvah of teffilin, knowing that this would in turn stimulate Divine love and blessing for his children.

In our own life we do well to reflect on the immense love we stimulate above for our families and communities through the simple mitzvah of Teffilin, the bond of love. It takes but a moment, once a day, but it releases a torrent of blessing, Divine love and Divine goodwill.

Every Jew

Our sages taught that when a Jewish criminal is executed G-d cries for the ache in His head and arm. Why does G-d specify the pain in His arm and head, why not His heart? Furthermore, how can an incorporeal G-d experience pain in a corporeal limb? (8)

G-d is clearly not talking about His limbs, but about the concept of teffilin that these limbs represent. The teffilin stimulate a flow of Divine love for the Jewish people. When a Jew is put to death G-d feels the pain of His beloved and cries out.

This underscores the incredible value of every single Jew. We are each a proverbial letter in G-d’s teffilin. Teffilin can only be kosher when every letter is intact. When even one letter is missing, even if it is not entirely missing, but is merely faded or cracked, the tefilin are invalid.

Our father in heaven loves every one of His children. He loves the wise as He does the simple. He loves the righteous as He does the wicked. We are all His children. If even one child goes missing, our father feels the pain. If even one letter begins to fade our father’s teffilin are unfit for use.

If G-d cries for our physical ailments then we can assume that He also cries for our spiritual ailments. It is incumbent on us to consider His pain before we transgress his will. It is incumbent on us to consider His tears before we detach ourselves from Him.

On the other hand, consider His gratitude and love when we return to the fold and embrace Him. Consider the gratitude and love He has for us when we inspire other Jews to return to the fold and to embrace Him. (9)


  1. Zohar p.162a.
  2. Vayikrah Rabba 2:10 and Bab. Talmud, Yuma, 28b.
  3. That Jacob’s teffilin took on a different guise than the one we are familiar with is also not surprising. The commandments before Sinai were intended as ideas to be expressed by any action or object that would properly express the idea. Jacob accomplished the Mitzvah by peeling pieces of bark off of four types of sticks to create a spotted appearance. The similarity to teffilin is expressed in the number four, the total number of Torah portions inscribed in the Teffilin, and in the intermittent black and while color pattern.
  4. Shemos Rabba, 30:9.
  5. See Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim, ch. 25: 5.
  6. Torah Ohr p. 68a (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813). See also the Chassidic Discourse set forth by R. Sholom Ber Schneerson (Fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch 1861 – 1920) on the occasion of his son’s Bar Mitzvah.
  7. Bab. Talmud, Brachos, 6a.
  8. Sanhedrin 64.
  9. The author heard this from Rabbi Dishon, Mashgiach in the Yeshiva of Stolin.