In this week’s Torah portion Eikev the Mitzvah of putting on Tefillin is mentioned.
In Midrash Tehillim it’s written:
Rabbi Eliezer said: “the Jewish people told Hashem, ‘we want to learn Torah all day and night, but we don’t have the time.’ Hashem replied: ‘Fulfil the Mitzvah of putting on Tefillin, and I will consider it as if you had laboured in Torah study day and night.’”
Clearly, the fact that our Sages say that wearing Tefillin can compensate for the inability to study Torah, shows that there is a relationship between the two Mitzvos. Furthermore, this Midrash implies that while it would be preferable to study Torah all the time, the Mitzvah of Tefillin has the power to fulfil much of what would be achieved through total devotion to Torah learning.
The question though is: How are these Mitzvos connected with each other? How can the fulfilment of the Mitzvah of Tefillin compensate a person for a lack of Torah study?
The Rebbe Rashab of Lubavitch explains that the answer lies in understanding the deeper meaning of the Mitzvah of Tefillin.
According to the Talmud Hashem also ‘wears’ Tefillin. What does this mean? We say in Tehilim: 147 (19) “He tells His words to Yaakov, His statutes and His ordinances to Yisrael.”
On this the Midrash comments: “There are those leaders who give commands to others to fulfil, but do not fulfil them themselves. However what Hashem commands others He Himself fulfils, as the verse says: He tells His words to Yaakov, His statutes and His ordinances to the People of Israel.” This means that only those laws which He keeps Himself, he imposes on His People.
So there is therefore a symbolic relationship between the Tefillin that we wear and the Tefillin “worn”, as it were, by Hashem.
Each Mitzvah we do in this physical realm causes a mirror act in the spiritual realm; so putting on our Tefillin brings about the parallel act, which is described as Hashem putting on His Tefillin!
This can be understood through a passage in Gemara Brochos which asks, what is written in Hashem’s Tefillin? The answer given is that the Tefillin contain the following verse from Divrei Hayamim “And who is like your people, like Yisrael, one nation on earth.”Whereas our Tefillin contain the Shema, which talks about the uniqueness of Hashem. The Tefillin ‘worn’ by Hashem speak about our uniqueness as his people, therefore by Hashem putting on Tefillin, He elevates the status of the Jewish people.
We can now understand why the earlier verse says
“The Jewish people told Hashem, we want to devote ourselves to learning Torah,” because learning Torah achieved a marvellous ‘drawing down’ of Divine light; in mystical terms this is referred to as the bringing down of Hashem’s intellectual attributes into His emotional attributes.
But Torah study is time-consuming, which is why the Mitzvah of Tefillin is offered as a partial replacement, because our wearing Tefillin triggers a similar effect on high as Torah study.
The spiritual aspect of Tefillin is the drawing down of the essence of intellect. A child less than 13 years of age is not obligated to put on Tefillin, as he is not called a man and is considered to possess only a small aspect of intellect. Upon becoming 13 years old he becomes a man and his act of putting on Tefillin causes Hashem to ‘put on Tefillin’ and causes the drawing down of the intellectual attributes to take place as he now attains the capacity to be a vessel for this spiritual drawing down and transmission.
We see from here how Tefillin and the study of the Torah represent the same spiritual concept. Therefore, through fulfilling of the Mitzvah of Tefillin, Hashem will consider it as if we fully dedicated to the study of Torah.