The Talit, T'philin, and the Mitzvot
By Uri Ben Ami
Stretching his hands above his head, he stood silently, paused in still meditation as he held his talit over his head. His face and most of his body were covered by the four-cornered garment. Almost in a silent whisper he intoned the blessing, "
. Asher kidishanu b'mitzvoto, v'tzevanu l'hitatef b'zezit" (translation of end of blessing: "
who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to enwrap ourselves in a garment with fringes.")
Now that the blessing was finished, he wrapped the talit around his head and upper body, and again in a still silent meditation he contemplated on the Oneness of G-d enveloping him. Then he rearranged the talit to cover his head and sit on his shoulders.
Next he removed his t'philin from their cases. As he placed the small black box on his left arm he again stood still, closed his eyes and began the blessing, "
Asher kidishanu b'mitzvoto, v'tzevanu l'haneach t'philin." (translation of end of blessing: "
who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to put on t'philin.") Now he began to wind the black straps around his arm.
Now this man is now ready to begin his prayers.
The above is a familiar scene in most synagogues around the world and in many homes. Before performing a mitzva, a blessing is made.
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What is the connection with the blessing, the momentary meditation and the performance of the mitzva? Would it not be sufficient to perform G-d's Holy mitzvot with out the blessing? What does the small silent meditation do to enhance the mitzva?
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To understand the above questions, and to understand even deeper the concept of sanctification, holiness that is such a central pivot of our religion, that most blessings include mention of it, we must first understand what is "kedusha" meaning holiness and sanctification.
In the book of Leviticus, 19:2, we are told, "
be holy because I, your G-d am holy." This requires an understanding. Obviously G-d is holy, but his holiness is a holiness that is beyond our comprehension. G-d is in the world and beyond the world, and all at the same time. G-d is, was and will be and all at the same time. There is no place void of G-d yet he can not be held or grasped by any place.
We are created beings, limited in time and space. We are products of our environment, a sum total of our experiences. G-d is neither changed by any earthly happening, nor is His being affected by them.
His holiness is based on His aloofness, His being unaffected by any earthly happening; we, of course, are.
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G-d's being is so abstract from our concepts of being that we can not fathom what He really is. Although G-d created the world ex-nihilo, meaning creating something from absolute nothing, which is really beyond our imagination to understand, yet the world takes no room, no space from G-d's essence. Unlike man, who's creation is something from something and after man is finished, the object takes room in man's world, either his physical world or his mental world. We can not absolutely separate ourselves from the thing that we have created.
How can we be expected to be holy, as G-d is holy? We are connected intrinsically with the world and all that is in it.
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The answer is thusly:
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When G-d created the world, the mystics tell us, he allowed a "light" to be emitted from his essence. From this first light a second light was created, and from this second light the world.
Why did such a process had to take place?
The answer is because a transition had to be made between the infinite and the finite. The mystics use the term "ohr" meaning light, because light is given off freely as the light from the sun. The first light was the light of the infinite, the second light was a finite light. From the first light, the light of the infinite, it was impossible to create a finite world; only from the second light, the light of the finite.
We can understand creating something from something, that's is with in our finite capabilities. We do understand the finite, but the infinite, we do not understand the infinite. We can say, as the finite is limited, so the infinite is unlimited. But we can not actually picture something unlimited.
The infinite light created the finite light. Had the finite light been created by G-d, the finite light would either cease to exist because of its relationship to the finite or it would be finite. The infinite light was a medium between G-d and the finite.
G-d radiated the infinite light, which in relation to G-d was considered finite. Anything created, including something infinite, when compared to G-d is considered finite. Now that the infinite light was created as a intermediate medium, the finite light could be created. This is called in the language of the mystics the "tzimzum".
These "ohrot", lights, are still in existence and the entire world is dependent on their powers for sustainment. The light of the finite is the power and living force that go into each object in accordance with its being, whether animate or inanimate, in to all parts. Just like the soul gives power to the entire body and yet the eyes require the power to see and the ears the power to hear, which are different than that of the feet which needs the power to walk.
The infinite light is also always with us. Its power force is infinitely greater than that of the finite light. But its light is a light than transcends rather than fills the world. It is the source of the finite light. There is no vessel capable of holding its power because it is infinite, therefore, its light transcends the world. Mathematically, we would say that one divided by the infinite is equal to zero. Only a vessel that is of the level of zero, meaning a non-entity could capture or hold the infinite light.
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What is the relationship to the Talit and the T'philin?
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Now that we have related a bit about the creation of the world, we can understand the difference between the two mitzvoth.
The talit is a covering that completely covers the man with equality, the head, ears, mouth, shoulders and even all parts of the body, with out consideration as to the body part. The t'philin are different, they relate to only one aspect of the body, the arm (or in case of the t'philin of the head, the head).
T'philin being a specific place in the body, draws down the power and life force from the light of the finite. Talit, however, which covers the entire body, can draw down the life force from the light of the infinite.
For these reasons we first wear the talit and the tephilin before praying. We want to access the superpowers that abound in the spiritual universe before we raise ourselves up to beseech the King of kings to grant our requests.
With our blessings on the mitzvot we invoke the same concept as when we marry a women. When we marry we stand under the Chupah with the ring and say to the Challa, "b'tabat zu, at m'kudeshest lee" (with this ring, you are sanctified to me).
The word sanctified here under the Chupah is the same word, in a different grammatical form as the word that we use when we make our blessing on the talit and t'philin. Herein lies our answer. Just as we set apart and sanctify our wedding union, making this young girl our wife, we also acknowledge that via our performing G-d's mitzvot, we are set aside and sanctified.
This is our role in the world, to be a holy people. Our holiness is not that of G-d, but is a derivative of his Holiness. Let us pray that we may fulfil our mission here on earth, and in doing so, inherit the next world.
from the June 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine