Tefillin Mitzvah: Significance, origin and how to put Tefillin

Symbolizing the Laws of God and His strength, putting tefillin is a great Mitzvah in Judaism. Connecting the heart, soul, brain and senses to the memory of Exodus, God’s presence in our life and our commitment in following Him and our laws, the tefillin is a way of reestablishing our connection and devotion to God on a daily basis. Being so significance in Jewish life makes us responsible to fully understand every detail in the Mitzvah of tefillin, so let’s shed some light on what tefillin are origin, significance, manner of making and wearing.

What are Tefillin?

The tefillin are two black leather boxes and straps to hold them, to be wrapped around your weakest hand and forearm. The second box is worn on the forehand.

Origin of Tefillin

The Torah tells us in four places to put tefillin, but why these specific places refer to the Mitzvah and how is it connected to the form and place of putting the tefillin?
"And you shall bind them as a sign on your arm, and they shall be as frontlets on your head between your eyes" (Deuteronomy 6:8).
This recommendation also appears in Deut.6:4-9; Deut. 11:13-21; Exodus 13:1-10; and Exodus 13:11-16.

a. Kadesh Li (Exod 13:1-10),
b. Vehayah Ki Yevi’akha (Exod 13:11-16),
c.  Shema (Deut 6:4-9),
d. Vehayah Im Shamo’a (Deut 11:13-21).

These four passages refer to G-D, his miracles and power in the physical world and beyond. Putting tefillin is remembering His strength, referring to head tefillin, close to the brain and all our senses, and keeping His words close to heart, letting them guide us Totafot, and hand to remember His strong hand, leading us out of Egypt.

Making Tefillin

Making a tefillin is as complex as putting a tefillin. Everything must be written according to Halacha, in an approved by Halahch ink and special parchment, with every letter formed according to specific details, if only one letter doesn’t comply with the Laws of tefillin, it is invalid.  There are various levels of tefillin, Peshutot and Gassot, according to Sephardic or Ashkenazi traditions, and it is up to you to decide on the price level. Nonetheless, your tefillin must be checked at least once a year.

When do we put Tefillin?

Putting tefillin should be part of your morning prayer or during the daytime, never at night. We do not put tefillin on Shabbat. Shabbat and holidays are considered to be signs between God and us, just as the tefillin is, therefore, we do not done tefillin on these occasions.
Sephardic Jews, chassidim and certain non-chassidic segments of Ashkenazi Jews, do not done tefillin on Chol Hamoed.
Most Ashkenazis, however, do don tefillin on Chol Hamoed.

How do you put Tefillin?

The tefillin should be put on your weaker hand, if you are right-handed, use your left hand to put the tefillin on your right hand and vice versa.
Chabad.ORG offers a great tutorial on putting tefillin and reference to the recited prayer.

When one is wearing tefillin, one should be all engaged in the Mitzvah, gathering his thoughts and directing them to prayer and connection with God.
Since the tefillin are a precious item, when not used, you should carefully store them in a tefillin bag, destined for this purpose.

Tallits and kippahs are inseparable from prayer in Jewish life; learn everything about these special items from their origin, style to how and when to wear them in our tallit guide and kippah 101.