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Dear Mogen David Family,

At the very end of Parashat Bo the Torah discusses the Tefillin shel Rosh and the Tefilln shel Yad as reminders of Mitzvot in general and of Yetziat Mitzrayim specifically. This important Mitzvah actually serves as a model for our service and relationship with Hashem.

Why does a righty place his tefillin on his left arm, and a lefty on his right arm? 

It is based on a Pasuk in Parshat Bo, which states regarding the tefillin that "it shall be for a sign upon your arm (ידכה)" (Shemot1 3:16.) Rather than the usual spelling, ידך, the Torah uses this unusual spelling to allude to the fact that tefillin should be placed on יד כהה, the weak hand. 

What is the significance of placing tefillin on our weaker arm?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein suggests that one's strong arm represents performing actions with strength and inner excitement, while one's weak arm represents doing things in a strained, burdensome fashion. When the Torah insists that we place Tefillin on our weak arm, it is symbolically demanding that we perform even the more difficult mitzvot with the same flair as if we were doing them with the strong arm.  The Sefer HaChinuch famously writes that our feelings follow our actions. Often, when feeling weak in a certain area, by acting with more strength we can start to feel more strength. 

Here we also see the connection between the shel Rosh and the shel Yad. The Yad serves to remind us that our physical actions should be close to our hearts, and the Rosh reminds us that our spirituality should also be rooted in our minds and intellect. I once heard that intellect without a heart is like a picture frame without a picture; heart and passion without the intellect is like a picture without a frame.

Ultimately we must serve and love  Hashem 'B'chol levavcha, u'v'chol nafshecha, u'v'chol meodecha,'--with our minds and intellect our heart and emotions, our material possessions and spiritual passions--indeed, with all that we have and attain. The mitzvah of Tefillin comes to remind us each and every day of this vital and important lesson and this is perhaps why it was mentioned here in the Torah even before we gathered to become a nation at Har Sinai. These elements serve as the backbone of our avodat Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yehuda Moses Rav HaKehillah/Senior Rabbi

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Tue, January 31 2023 9 Shevat 5783