Forty years separated the original command to the Jews to put on tefilin, and the final command that occurred in our parsha (Ve’etchanan) just before the Jews entered the land of Israel.  The original command (in parshat Bo, Ex 13:16)) was in the singular, “It should be a sign upon your hand and for frontlets between your eyes.”  “It” refers to the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.  In our parsha, though, the command is in the plural: “You should tie them as a sign…and they shall be as frontlets…” (Deut 6:8).  Here, the command refers to the words of Torah.

What’s interesting is that even though the tefilin of the exodus also had four compartments (since the same word – totafot – appeared in parsha Bo as in our parsha, and as Rashi explains, it indicates “four”), nevertheless since two of the sections were not mentioned until our parsha, the Jews traveled through the desert with only two of the four sections of the tefilin filled.  The other two had to wait until our parsha, just as the Jews were about to enter the land of Israel.

The tefilin fulfill two purposes: 1) They instill fear.  The person who sees a Jew wearing tefilin senses something beyond the world, supernatural and is therefore in fear 2) The head and hand tefilin together inspire the behavior of the tribe of Gad, who was commanded to “rip off the arm with the head.”  Since the Jews had to fight when they entered the land of Israel, and it was necessary for Gad to fight in front of the other tribes, it was appropriate for the tefilin to correspond to the nature of their fight.

In fact, the nature of the tefilin in each case fit the historical context.  As Moshe lead the Jews out of the land of Egypt, he expected to immediately enter the promised land of Israel.  Moshe’s leadership was miraculous; it took place from completely above nature. And therefore it would not have been necessary for the Jews to fight upon entering Israel – their very presence was enough to cause the inhabitants to flee.  This is reflected in the result that the original tefilin (from parshat Bo) had upon the observer; they instilled fear.  The fear was such that the inhabitants would have simply run away from the Jews.

However, forty years later the Jews were about to undergo a change of leadership.  Instead of Moshe, it was Joshua who was to lead the Jews into the land of Israel.  And instead of fighting the war of conquest by supernatural means, it would be necessary to fight physically.  The results were still miraculous – no Jewish soldiers were lost, but nonetheless, under Joshua’s leader ship the Jews had to fight.  And for that reason, their tefilin reflected the nature of their struggle.  The second tefilin command, appearing in our parsha, imparted the ability to “tear the arms off with the head.”  This time, the enemy did not automatically run away as they would have under Moshe, but the tefilin imparted the ability to defeat the enemy decisively, physically.

For a longer more detailed version, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 9, P. 49-60

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: