Women and Tefillin

Tefillin is a mitzvah specifically for men; women are not required to wear Tefillin. The late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, in his classic pamphlet “Tefillin” provides us with a beautiful explanation of a woman’s relationship with this pivotal mitzvah. The following is based on Rabbi Kaplan’s work.

On a most simple level, commandments establish a link with G-d. The most profound way to accomplish this is through emulating Him. Women resemble G-d in a way that no man could ever hope to. Only a woman can create within her body; only a woman can bear a child. In this sense, a woman partakes of G-d’s attributes more intimately than any man.

The Kabbalists teach us that the hand Tefillin represent the feminine element. The single hollow section in the Tefillin box represents the womb, and the coils wrapped around the arm signify the umbilical cord. What a man partakes of with an object, a woman partakes of with her very body.

The box of Tefillin is called a Bayit–literally a house. The woman also has her Bayit–the home in which she raises a family. One could say that a woman’s home is her Tefillin.

Women resemble G-d through their Tefillin, just as man does through his. The entire world is G-d’s house, and the Divine attribute that tends to it is called the Shechinah or Divine Presence. It is interesting to note that the word Shechinah is of the feminine gender. The Kabbalists call it the Akeret HaBayit–literally, the Mistress of the house.

There are two basic elements in Judaism, the home and the synagogue. Unlike other religions where the church is primary, Judaism treats the home and synagogue as being co-equal. Some of our most important rituals belong exclusively to the home, such as the Seder, the Succah, the Sabbath table, and the Chanukah lamp. The continuity of Judaism is dependent on the home, much more than on the synagogue.

This Bayit–the home–is a woman’s Tefillin. It is her contribution to the overall picture of G-d’s purpose.

It is interesting to note that when G-d first gave the Jewish nation the Torah, G-d told Moshe to instruct the women of Israel initially, and then subsequently teach the men of Israel. If the Torah does not enter the Jewish home first, symbolized and embodied by the Jewish women, there can be no continuity of Judaism. This spirit of Torah in the Jewish home (Bayit) is the same as the parchments of Torah in the Tefillin box (Bayit). But this is the domain of the woman.

 
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The Wisdom of Kabbalah – 19th Tevet, 5771


Kabbalah for the Student

Kabbalists Write about the Wisdom of Kabbalah.

    The Torah is but a means. Engaging in it should be with a desire and profound desire for Dvekut (adhesion) with the Creator. No other intention is permitted in the Hall of G-d. Clearly, if students of Torah had engaged in it with burning love of G-d in their hearts, and the desire to cleave unto Him would be filling their whole being, there would be no argument concerning the internality of the Torah. All would flock to the King’s Hall to engage in the wisdom of Kabbalah and the Holy Zohar for the greater part of their day, and even most of their time.

–The Path of the PARDESS, vol. 11,
Parashat VaYishlach, November 1996, Issue 515/3

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A Splinter In Your Finger Or How To Read The Zohar

Reading The Zohar is a very special kind of reading. We are the will to receive pleasure. The Creator cultivates this desire in us and leads us to the group. We are talking about people who, according to their inner evolution, are now expected to start uncovering spirituality.

From the group, I receive additional desire called “aspiration” which I obtain thanks to my work in the group while making efforts to unify with the friends. Despite my unwillingness to become one with them, I work on it by employing all possible means to receive awakening from them.

Thereby, I receive from the group the following: 1) additional awakening or the yearning for spirituality; 2) awareness of evil, my egoistic nature, and unwillingness to unite with the others; and 3) the value of the goal of becoming identical to the Creator, achieving bestowal.

Knowing all these conditions, I undertake reading The Book of Zohar. Now, while reading The Zohar with the desire to attain bestowal, with the awareness of my existing in the will to receive pleasure, employing additional desire that I obtained from the group, I demand transformation.

However, what does it mean to “demand transformation?” If I already reside in these desires and the forces are already working on me, I will be transformed for certain since The Zohar, per se, is the Light.

What does it mean that “I draw the Light, attracting it?” My attitude toward the studies must be such that right now, while reading The Zohar, I tap into the force of Light so it may affect, transform, and correct me.

In itself, the Light doesn’t do anything. Desire grows and changes due to the constant Light that remains at absolute rest. Therefore, when I demand transformation from the Light, I don’t really ask it from the Light. I ask for my desire to change and become more powerful in demanding the Light.

While reading The Zohar, we should think in the above manner. As a result, we will realize that it is all up to us, and we stand across from the unchangeable force that is willing to assist and reform us to the better.

Therefore, I begin reading The Zohar with all my demands for correction, a greater egoistic desire that opposes the Light, the desire to be reformed, and equalize myself with the Light at least somewhat. I must feel this central demand to be reformed in my will to receive like a thorn that keeps bothering me.

This is what my approach to reading The Zohar must be. I have to feel this “thorn.” After all, if I had a splinter in my finger, then, try as I might, I wouldn’t be able to focus on studying, reading, and listening because a powerful, sharp pain would distract me.

We should feel this “sharp pain” within us while reading The Zohar such that it won’t go away. The moment I stop feeling it, I’m not studying the Torah, but some fancy science, as it is written: “Believe that the nations possess wisdom.”

“The nations” are those who don’t wish to change. If a person desires to change, it means that he is “studying the Torah” since the Light contained in it reforms and returns us to the source, the Creator. That’s where the difference is.

The very same person can be “the nations” at one moment and “Israel” (aspiring to the Creator) the next. As soon as he doesn’t wish to change, he is regarded as the “nations of the world.” Then, he is studying fancy knowledge. The moment when he wishes to change and become similar to the Creator, he is “studying the Torah,” that is, demanding the Light that Reforms.
From the 2nd part of the Daily Kabbalah Lesson 12/17/10, The Zohar

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In the Words of the Sages – 19th Tevet, 5771

A Selection of Aggadaic Sayings about Tzitzit

 

Rabbi Nattan said: there is no “minor” mitzvah in the Torah whose observance isn’t rewarded in this world and the next. How much is the reward? Let us use the mitzvah of tzitzit as an example:

There was once a man who was meticulous in the observance of the mitzvah of tzitzit. He heard that there was a harlot in a faraway city who charged four hundred gold talents for her services. He sent her the exorbitant fee and set an appointed time to meet her. When he arrived at the appointed time … she prepared for him seven beds, one atop the other — six of silver and the highest one was made of gold. Six silver ladders led to the six silver beds, and a golden ladder led to the uppermost one. The prostitute unclothed herself and sat on the uppermost bed, and he, too, joined her. As he was unclothing himself, the four fringes of his tzitzit slapped him in his face. He immediately slid off the bed on to the floor, where he was quickly joined by the woman.

“I swear by the Roman Caesar,” the harlot exclaimed, “I will not leave you until you reveal to me what flaw you have found in me!”

“I swear,” the Jew replied, “that I have never seen a woman as beautiful as you. However, there is one mitzvah which we were commanded by our G-d, and tzitzit is its name. Concerning this mitzvah it is twice stated in the Torah ‘I am the L-rd your G-d’ — ‘I am the one who will seek retribution, and I am the one who will reward.’ Now the four tzitzit appeared to me as four witnesses, testifying to this truth.”

“I still will not leave you,” the prostitute said, “until you provide me with your name, the names of your city, rabbi and the school in which you study Torah.”

He wrote down all the information and handed it to her.

The woman sold all her possessions. A third of the money she gave to the government (as a payoff so that they would allow her to convert to Judaism), a third she handed out to the poor, and the remaining third she took with her — along with the silver and gold beds — and she proceeded to the school which the man had named, the study hall of Rabbi Chiya.

“Rabbi,” she said to Rabbi Chiya, “I would like to convert to Judaism.”

“Perhaps,” Rabbi Chiya responded, “you desire to convert because you have taken a liking to a Jewish man?”

The woman pulled out the piece of paper with the information and related to the rabbi the miracle which transpired with the tzitzit.

“You may go and claim that which is rightfully yours [i.e. the right to convert],” the rabbi proclaimed.

She ended up marrying the man. Those very beds which she originally prepared for him illicitly, she now prepared for him lawfully. Such was his reward for meticulously observing the mitzvah of tzitzit.

And the reward in the World-to-Come? That we cannot even fathom!

— Talmud Menachot 44a.

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Joke of the day – 19th Tevet, 5771

A bubbe sent her grandson a sweater she’d gotten for half price for his birthday. Unfortunately, he had a size 18 neck and she sent a size 14 sweater. His mother insisted that he send a thank you note anyway. He wrote, “Dear Bubbe, Thanks a lot for the beautiful sweater. I’d write more, but I’m all choked up.”

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