Temple Aliyah


Wrapping Ourselves Up in God

Posted on February 28, 2018

When I work with students the week before their B’nai Mitzvah, I teach them to put on tefillin. (BTW, a big yashar koach to the Men’s Club for their World Wide Wrap and work with SCJLL leading up to the event). I talk about the concept that putting on tefillin is a physical manifestation of what our relationship with God should and could be. We wrap ourselves up in God during the week—literally. Ukshartam l’ot—you shall tie a sign, al yadechah, on your arm. We wrap the retzuot (straps) seven times around our left arm (close to the heart). This is just like the Jewish wedding ceremony where the couple walks around each other seven times—seven days of the week we are wrapped up in each other. Just as our relationship with God should/could be. When we put on the “shel rosh,” the tefillin for the head, I point out the idea that the four paragraphs contained in the tefillin are placed in four slots (rooms) in the bayit (housing of the tefillin scrolls). It reminds us of the chuppah open on four sides, but if we looked inside the home of the future, it would have rooms, perhaps even four! As we continue to wrap the tefillin, as we make the “shin” on our hand, we say the words from the prophet Hosea who said: “I shall betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me with righteousness, justice, kindness and mercy. I will betroth you to me with faith and you shall know Hashem.” The final act of putting on tefillin contains Hosea’s words—as we wrap around the finger, symbolizing the wedding ring. We make the letter shin as we complete the name of God, Shaddai whose presence depends on us, as Jews, to accept and believe in something holy and greater than ourselves.  Betrothal, the first step toward erosion (marriage), is called kiddushin—from the word kiddush, holy. Marriage is by its essence holy and so are the mitzvoth that guide our lives.

Did you ever notice how the straps of new tefillin, stiff, shiny and just a little uncomfortable at first, loosen up over time? They become supple, smooth, pliable and comfortable. The more you wrap yourselves in each other, the more perfectly smooth and comfortable you become. It reminds me of a musical instrument that with time ages and allows the full spectrum of sound to speak through the wood and strings. It’s not easy—the wood has to vibrate and shake loose the finely packed particles that make up the grain—when that happens, it allows the wood to vibrate, creating harmonious overtones that impress the listener. 

With that said, I am happy to announce that Kelley and I have been betrothed for 40 years on the second of April. It is hard to believe that so much time has gone by. Three sons and three grandchildren later, we are still, and more than ever, wrapped up in each other. 

At the end of my lesson, I tell my students that yes, mitzvoth are important—but whether you put on tefillin every day is not as important as living by Hillel’s creed: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” Yes, the most important thing that we can do as Jews is to care for others with righteousness, justice, kindness, mercy and faith—always.

That is marriage, that is relationship, that is love, that is 40 years.

 Hazzan Stein



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