by Reb Gutman Locks of the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel at Mystical Paths
The most exciting thing in this week’s portion of the Torah is the Jewish nation’s exodus from Egypt into freedom. A nation of lowly slaves marched out heads held high taking with them great riches and this happened while the slave masters watched totally defeated. At long last after hundreds of years of exile and slavery the exodus came. Hashem dealt out His last two plagues to the Egyptians who finally allowed the Jewish nation to leave the horrible bondage that they had cruelly imposed upon them.
Remember, the Torah is talking to us today and the real message here is not merely the historical one but the current one. When we rely on G-d and seek His ways even today we can go out into freedom with riches while our enslavers stand helpless watching us go.
This is why we are told again and again to remember the exodus from slavery. Not merely to give praise to Hashem for having taken our ancestors out of bondage, but because He will do the same thing for us today when we follow His ways.
In this portion we are given some of the rules of the holiday of Passover and are told the primary purpose of the holiday of Passover is to remember our going out into freedom.
We are also told about the mitzvah of tefillin, the leather boxes that we lay upon our arms and upon our heads. Here too we are told to remember our exodus into freedom.
The holiday of Passover has obvious connections to the original Passover and therefore reminds us of our exodus, but what do tefillin have to do with the exodus? After all isn’t this just a ritual?
Tefillin are called a “sign” and are either to be a reminder to study Torah[i] or they are called an “ornament” [ii] upon our head.
Placing words of Torah on our foreheads is certainly a reminder to study the Torah but how are they an ornament?
Tefillin are called a crown. The Talmud speaks of four crowns.[iii]
There is the crown of Torah. This is the learning of the Torah.
There is the crown of priesthood. This is the Temple service and its equivalent today, which is prayer.
There is the crown of kingship. This is the fulfilling of the mitzvoth that go out into the kingdom, the world.
And there is the crown of a good name, which surpasses them all. This is Chassidus which leads a person to a spiritual life.
Only the king wears the crown, but it is not for him to see. He cannot see it. It is worn to identify him to others as the king. This is done for their benefit because when they give honor to the king there will be order and blessings in the kingdom. It is a sign.
If you see a group of people praying, what religion would you say they must belong to?
You cannot tell just from prayers because all religions teach prayer.
What if you see them burning incense? What religion would they have to belong to?
You cannot say because all religions burn incense.
What if they are bowing down?
Same thing. All religions teach their followers to bow down.
Singing? Same thing. Offering an animal? Same thing.
On and on until you see someone putting on tefillin. Ah tefillin! That is the sign of a Jew. No one else in the entire world, not in its entire history has ever adapted the custom of tefillin except the Jews. To this day tefillin are a sign, a crown upon the heads of His people. They are worn to identify us as the ones He did take out, and to this day does take out of slavery.
[i] Ex 13:9
[ii] Ex 13:16, Duet 6:9, 11:18
[iii] Perke Avot 4:13
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BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא