Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin
A Chassidic Insight
There is a difference of opinion regarding the order in which the passages are inserted into the Tefillin boxes. According to Rashi, the passage of Shema (“Here O Israel”) precedes that of “And it shall come to pass, if you hearken”, in both the Tefillin worn on the head and on the arm. According to Rabbeinu Tam, the order is reversed.
Because of this difference of opinion, Chassidim generally put on Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin after removing their regular “Rashi” Tefillin.
Reb Natan of Breslev, following the teachings of Rebbe Nachman, offers a deep and revealing explanation of Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin.
FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE
“I [G-d] have created the Evil Urge, and I have created the Torah as its spice.” (Talmud: Kiddushin 30a)
The Mezricher Maggid points out that the Talmud’s analogy doesn’t make sense! The Talmud compares the Torah to a spice, implying that the Torah is secondary to the evil inclination, in the same way that spice is secondary to food!
The Maggid explains that the Evil Inclination is a major force, and not secondary, like spice. We are challenged with channeling that energy and using it in our service of G-d.
How can we control our fiery Evil Inclination and channel it towards serving G-d? Through “fighting fire with fire.” In other words, through using the positive spiritual energies of harshness, of din, as it states, “Everything that comes into the fire, you shall pass through the fire (in order to purify it)” (Bamidbar 31:23). To harness our most basic urges towards spirituality we must revert to the earliest system of the Creation: strict justice, severity, din.
“In the beginning, Elokim’s [G-d’s name denoting strict justice, din] created the heavens and the earth…” (Bereishit 1:1).
“‘Elokim [G-d] created: It didn’t say ‘Hashem [i.e. G-d’s name denoting kindness and mercy] created” because originally He intended to create [the universe] through strict judgment [din]… And he saw that the universe couldn’t survive that way” (Rashi, Bereishit 1:1).
G-d originally created the world to run through strict judgment, din. However, since G-d knew that the world could not endure such harsh conditions, He decided to incorporate the spiritual energies of compassion too, as the verse states, “These are the products of the heaven and earth when they were created in the day that Hashem [i.e. G-d’s name denoting kindness and mercy] G-d [i.e. G-d’s name, denoting strict justice, din] made earth and heaven.” (Bereishit 2:4) According to the original plan of Creation a person would be judged strictly on his own merits. There would be no bending of the rules; no concept of leniency; no looking the other way or giving another chance. Strict justice would dictate that a person be severely punished for even the “slightest” infraction of G-d’s will.
Since very few can survive such scrutiny, G-d created an alternate system – the system of din, strict justice, mitigated with chesed, kindness and mercy. In that system, He assists us by providing us with the help we need to overcome the forces of evil. As the Talmud teaches:
“The Evil Urge assaults a person daily. If it wasn’t for Hashem’s assistance, one would fall into his [the Evil inclination’s] hand” (Kedushin 30a).
In a world where din, justice is tempered with chesed, compassion, the average person has the opportunity to come close to G-d. Although the average person must still try his best to stand up to evil and adhere to G-d’s will, G-d views his inevitable lapses through the prism of compassion. In His love for us, He overlooks our shortcomings.
In a world where din, justice is tempered with chesed, compassion, G-d supports us and helps us to overcome evil and serve Him. As a result of G-d’s assistance, we are able to channel our negative energies to serving G-d, and actually convert these energies into something positive and holy.
But although G-d created this alternate system of din, justice tempered with chesed, compassion, the original system of pure, untempered justice is still available — for those rare and powerful individuals who are able to confront the Evil Urge without G-d’s assistance.
These rare individuals are capable of adhering to G-d’s Will despite the unrelenting trials, afflictions, and massive assaults hurled at them from the forces of evil. The patriarchs were such exceptional individuals, they followed this path, unassisted by G-d, as the verse says, “He [Yaakov] said, ‘O G-d [the name of Hashem containing the spiritual energies of harshness] before Whom my forefathers Avraham and Yitzchak walked … [the patriarchs were able to walk before G-d’s strictness, meaning they were able to successfully serve Him, unassisted, while living under the realm of severity, enabling them to reach awesome spiritual heights]” (Bereishit 48:15).
Rebbe Nachman explains that in this path of unassisted greatness, whatever these spiritual giants attained or accomplished was through the power of their prayers. If they didn’t pray for their needs, G-d wouldn’t provide for them. As a result, they were always completely connected with their Creator.
Since the great Tzaddikim throughout history were living on the level of din, strict justice, they realized that suffering was beneficial, enhancing their spiritual standing and bringing them close to G-d.
“Whomever G-d loves, he chastens [to let him know how to straighten his way. (Mezudat David)]” (Mishlei 3:12). [One is chastened by G-d so that no trace of sin remains lest it lessen G-d’s love for that person, and it also increases one’s humility, lest tranquility decrease one’s fear of Him. (Rabbenu Yona)].
According to the Medrash, Moshe knew that in the future, the Romans would shred Rabbi Akiva’s flesh with iron combs for the crime disseminating Torah. He asked, “This is the Torah, and this is its reward?” G-d retorted, “Silence! For this came up upon my thoughts.”
Although the answer appears strange, we can understand it in light of what we just learned. Rabbi Akiva was a spiritual giant. He succeeded in serving G-d unassisted, while withstanding incredible afflictions, tests, and obstacles. He was able to break the forces of evil without G-d’s assistance. Only through performing G-d’s will, despite his immense suffering, was Rabbi Akiva able to attain such a lofty spiritual level, the level of G-d’s “first thought,” so to speak, where the world would be conducted through strict justice, din. Rabbi Akiva was able to unify his soul with G-d’s first thought. Therefore G-d’s retort to Moshe can be understood as: “‘Silence’ which is the level of thought, for thoughts are silent, Rebbe Akiva reached the lofty spiritual level of G-d’s thought.”For this came up upon My thought,” My first thought, to create the world through harshness, so those people who are able to come close to Me without My assistance and mercy could reach that highest level.
We know that anything we do in this world produces spiritual energies that are stored in the upper worlds and last for eternity. These stored spiritual energies can be accessed even centuries after the act was performed. And, like a spiritual “radio receiver,” Tefillin help us access such spiritual energies to nourish our souls, bringing us closer to the Almighty.
The spiritual energies accessed by wearing Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin draw the spiritual energies associated with such spiritual giants as the patriarchs and Rebbe Akiva – spiritual giants who were able to serve G-d despite living under the realm of severity. Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin are much holier than Rashi’s Tefillin and therefore, they can access the spiritual energies of G-d’s first thought, the world of din.
In Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin, the paragraph “And if you listen …” (Devarim 11:13:21), which warns of the consequences of violating G-d’s Will, din, harsh justice, precede the paragraph of “Hear O Israel …” (Devarim 6:4-8), which declares our belief in the Almighty. Since this verse applies to even the sinners of Israel, it alludes to G-d’s attribute of compassion, chesed. In Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin, the aspect of harshness, din, precedes that of mercy, chesed, alluding to G-d’s original intention to run the world through harshness, din.
In Rashi’s Tefillin, however, the paragraph of compassion precedes the paragraph of harshness. This alludes to the way G-d presently runs the world – with compassion. Since most people are dependent on G-d’s compassion for their very existence, the halacha is according to Rashi’s view. Therefore, the obligation to wear Tefillin is fulfilled through donning Rashi’s Tefillin.
Through wearing Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin (in addition to Rashi’s Tefillin) we draw awesome spiritual energies from the spiritual giants of the past, heroes who were able to neutralize afflictions, barriers, and harshness at their root, without the assistance of G-d’s mercy. For this reason, Rebbe Nachman urged anyone who truly desires to come close to G-d to wear Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin in addition to Rashi’s Tefillin.
Rebbe Nachman said that since the power of the evil inclination and the forces of evil are derived from the negative spiritual energies of din, unmitigated justice, one must access the potent positive spiritual energies of severity from the spiritual giants of the past to break these evil forces at their root.
Reb Natan adds that prior to Messianic era; the power of evil is so intense that we lack the power to overcome it. Therefore, explains Reb Natan, it is imperative to enlist the aid of the spiritual giants of past generations through Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin. Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin expand the intelligence, enabling us to break evil at its source and stand up against the forces of evil. “In the turbulent era prior to the coming of the Messiah, for anyone who is serious about wanting to find G-d, wearing Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin is very important.” (Lekutey Halachoth: Orach Chaim: Hilchoth Tefillin 5:27-29)
Another Reason for Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin
“Yehuda Ben Tema said, ‘Be bold as a leopard… to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven” (Pirkei Avot 5:23)
“An abomination to G-d is every one that is proud of heart” (Mishlei 16:5)
This appears to be a contradiction. On one hand, according to Pirkei Avot G-d desires boldness. On the other hand, the verse in Mishlei implies that God detests bold behavior!
Reb Natan explains that there is no contradiction. Contrary to popular opinion, true humility does not mean yielding in every situation and acting “like a doormat.’ True humility is found in the ability to respond appropriately to each situation. There are situations where the proper response is to be bold, courageous, and unyielding. And there are other situations where the proper response is to be yielding, gentle, and meek.
Since it is impossible for a human being to always know the proper response for each situation, we live with doubt. This is reflected in our wearing Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin in addition to Rashi’s Tefillin, since we wear them due to a doubt. The positive spiritual energies they access to counter this doubt rectify any situations of doubt that a person may encounter. As mentioned above, Rashi’s Tefillin contain the spiritual energies of compassion and Rabbeinu Tam’s the spiritual energies of harshness. Through wearing both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin, we nourish our minds with the spiritual energies of compassion and holy harshness. These two energies (when combined with the spiritual energies that cover all doubt mentioned above) enable us to intuitively determine how to respond appropriately in every situation, whether it means acting tough or being gentle. (Lekutei Halachoth: Orach Chaim: Hilchoth Tefillin 6:16)