By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
The Medrash relates a fascinating narrative between Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu. When the Jews were in the desert, an individual called the m’koshesh eitzim desecrated the Shabbos. Hashem asked Moshe Rabbeinu how was it possible that someone in the insular community of the dor de’ah, the generation of knowledge, under the ananei hakoved, the clouds of glory, could flagrantly be m’chalel Shabbos, violate the Shabbos. Moshe Rabbeinu answered, ‘I don’t know.’ (As an aside, one of the traits of true leader is the ability to say ‘I don’t know.’ As the Gemora teaches, “Lameid l’shoncha lomeir ‘eini yodeah’ shema tisbadeh v’tei-acheiz – Train yourself to say ‘I don’t know’ lest you make something up and get caught.” People who are too arrogant to admit that they don’t know something invent an answer on the spot and then later on get embarrassment when their fabrication is uncovered.) Hashem then said, ‘Let me explain it to you. During the week, a man wears tefillin and the holiness of the tefillin protects him from sin. On Shabbos, however, there is no tefillin and that’s what enabled the m’koshesh eitzim to falter and transgress.’
This should be a strong indication for us as to the power of our tefillin when used the right way. The posuk states “V’hoyu l’os al yod’cha ul’totafos bein einechah l’ma-an tihiye Toras Hashem beficha – The [tefillin] should be for you a sign upon your hand and frontlets in the area between your eyes in order that the Torah of Hashem should be in your mouth.” The Chasam Sofer, zt”l, zy”a, explains one of the lessons of this verse. He cites the Rambam who says that the holiness of our tefillin protects our mouth from speaking foolish chatter and engaging in sinful speech. He then cites the Yerushalmi in Berachos where Reb Shimon bar Yochai says that really it would be good to have two mouths, one for Torah and prayer, and one for everything else, like having fleishig and milchig sinks. But, he says, people would use both mouths for the wrong things and it would be double trouble. Thus, explains the Rambam, the posuk says you should wear tefillin which will purify your mouth so that then you can have the Torah of Hashem permissibly coming out of the same mouth.
This also give a new interpretation to what we say before Baruch She-amar: Hareini mezaman es pi l’hodos ul’halel ul’shabei-ach es Bori – Behold, I prepare my mouth to give thanks, to praise, and to laud my Creator.” The Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Segal, zt”l, zy”a, wonders what preparation we are referring to. Does it mean that we have a coffee before davening? Of course, gargling with Listerine is a good idea. It says in Shulcahn Orech that we should clean our mouth before saying Hashem’s Name. ( That’s a good thing to do for our spouse as well.) But the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva adds that the way to prepare to say Ashrei and all the other praises to Hashem is to guard our tongues from lashon hara, evil gossiping, and nival peh, all kinds of vulgarities, for otherwise how can our mouths be effective in its communication with Hashem. After all, we know that there is a hard and fast rule, “Ein kateigor na’ase sanegor – The prosecutor can never become the defender.” Now, we can add another caveat to the preparatory prayer of hareini mezamen, and that is by putting on our tefillin which infuses us with divine protection for our mouth, we are much more ready to engage in our adulations and petitions to our Creator.
As we don our tefillin in the morning, we should not take them lightly. They enhance our lives significantly. Citing the posuk, “Hashem aleihem yichyu – When you put Hashem upon you, you will live,” the Gemora in Menachos says that they add to our longevity. Tefillin is one of the two daily signs that we have to remind us of Hashem; namely, tefillin and our milah, our circumcision. On Shabbos, when we don’t wear the tefillin, the Shabbos replaces them as the second sign. There are many responsa about a soldier who is at war and who cannot keep the Shabbos or a concerning a hemophiliac who cannot have circumcision regarding whether they should actually don tefillin on Shabbos to replace the missing sign. Although the halacha does not allow this, it points to how very critical the reminder of tefillin is to our Torah psyche.
May the merit of our tefillin protect us and elevate us to be zoche to health, happiness and everything wonderful.
Please learn, give tzedaka, and daven l’iluy nishmas of Miriam Liba bas Aharon.
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