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Chapter 9: Sefer Torah, Tefillin, Mezuzah, Tzitzit

Chapter 9: Sefer Torah, Tefillin, Mezuzah, Tzitzit

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Sefer Torah

A Sefer Torah [the scroll containing the Five Books of Moses] is written by a qualified scribe called a Sofer. He writes the Torah on scrolls of parchment using a feather and kosher ink. The Sefer Torah is written in Hebrew with Ketav Ashurit [Assyrian writing], in paragraphs, but with no full stops or punctuation marks. The Sofer is extremely careful to copy every word from an existing Sefer Torah so that every Sefer Torah is the same. Even if a single letter is missing the entire scroll is invalid [passul]. It takes between six months and a year to write a Sefer Torah.

The Parchment [Klaf]

Parchment is skin from a kosher animal that has been processed and prepared for writing. The Sofer makes lines on the parchment with a blunt awl and writes the Hebrew underneath the line. He writes the text in columns, and fits four to five columns on one piece of parchment. Each piece is then sewn together with sinew [strong thread made from kosher animal sinews]. The ink is made from special nuts, oils and gums, all kosher in origin. The feather is specially shaped as a quill.

Honor

The Sefer Torah is the most holy object we have. Whenever the Sefer Torah is removed from the Ark, we kiss it and follow it to the Bimah. We must dress it and adorn it with the finest velvet and silver. We must always stand up if a Sefer Torah is removed from the Ark.

The Sefer Torah is the holiest treasure in our possession. Every single word in the Torah is Divine and is an exact copy of the very first Sefer Torah written by Moses.

Hachnassat Sefer Torah

It is a big mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah. Since most of us are not scribes, we can help write a Sefer Torah by paying a scribe to write one for us. Since a Sefer Torah is incomplete even if one letter is missing, therefore if one writes [or buys] one letter in a Sefer Torah, it is considered as if one wrote the entire scroll. When a scribe has finished writing a Sefer Torah, there is a ceremony called a Hachnassat [bringing in] Sefer Torah. In this ceremony, a few people are honored to write the last few letters of the Torah [with the help of the scribe] and then the Torah is dressed with a velvet mantle and a crown and then placed under a chuppah [canopy, as in a wedding] and led through the streets to the Synagogue amidst dancing and music. Great honor is given to the Torah and everybody kisses the Torah to show our love and appreciation for this most wonderful gift.

Tefillin

The Torah commands us to put on Tefillin every weekday. The Tefillin should preferably be put on in the morning in synagogue, but it is permitted to put them on all day until sunset.

What are Tefillin?

Tefillin are leather boxes with straps, which contain the four sections of the Torah that mention the mitzvah of Tefillin. One of the sections is the Shema Yisrael. In the Tefillin Shel Yad [Tefillin put on the arm next to the heart] the four sections are written on one scroll; in the Tefillin Shel Rosh [Tefillin put on the head] the sections are written on four different scrolls placed in four different sections.

The obvious difference between the two is that the box of the Tefillin Shel Rosh has four distinctive sections, and has the letter Shin drawn on either side of the box. [On the left side, the Shin has four heads, representing the four mothers — Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, Leah — on the right side the Shin has three heads representing Abraham, Isaac and Jacob]. The Tefillin are made by a competent G‑d-fearing Sofer.

Why Tefillin?

We think with our brain. We feel with our heart. For a few moments each day we should direct our thoughts and feelings to G‑d. This is achieved through Tefillin. The Tefillin Shel Yad directs our emotions [love, fear] to G‑d, and the Tefillin Shel Rosh directs and concentrates our thoughts to G‑d. Furthermore, the Tefillin is strapped to the arm indicating that our actions should follow the will of G‑d.

Where are Tefillin placed?

The Tefillin Shel Yad is bound round the left arm [on the right arm if one is left-handed] on the biceps upper muscle — so that if the arm is put down, the Tefillin will face the heart. The straps are then wound round the arm seven times, and then round the hand. The Tefillin Shel Rosh is placed on the forehead, not lower than where the hair starts to grow.

Who must wear Tefillin?

Every Bar Mitzvah boy must start putting on Tefillin two months before his Bar Mitzvah, in order to practice. Every male aged 13 upwards must put on Tefillin every weekday. Tefillin are not put on on Shabbat or Yomtov, since Tefillin are signs that direct our thoughts and feelings to G‑d, and on Shabbat, the day itself is the sign, and does not require an additional sign.

What do you say with Tefillin on?

Before putting on Tefillin one says the blessing: Baruch Ata….Lehoniach Tefillin. Usually, Tefillin are worn for Shacharit and the entire Shacharit is recited with Tefillin. If this is not possible, one should at least put on the Tefillin for a few moments, say the Shema Yisrael, and say a short prayer.

Honor

The Tefillin must be kept in a special Tefillin bag and treated with great respect. They should not be kept in a dirty place, nor brought into the bathroom or toilet. It is customary to kiss the Tefillin when they are taken out of the protective boxes.

Reward

The Torah promises that one who wears Tefillin every day will merit long life. The Tefillin should be regularly checked by a Sofer to make sure that they are kosher.

Mezuzah

The Torah commands us to affix a mezuzah on every door of our home except the bathroom and toilet. A mezuzah is a scroll of parchment with the first two paragraphs of the Shema written on it. The scroll is usually placed in a protective case to protect the mezuzah from rain and damp. The mezuzah is fixed on the right doorpost as you enter, two-thirds of the way up the door with the top of the mezuzah slanting towards the left. When affixing a mezuzah one says the blessing: Baruch Ata….Likboa Mezuzah. Mezuzot must be checked twice in seven years to ascertain their kashrut.

Protective Power

On the reverse side of the mezuzah scroll is written the name of G‑d — Shin, Daled, Yud. These letters are an acronym for the words: Shomer Daltot Yisrael — the Guardian of the Doors of Israel. The mezuzah protects the home physically and spiritually. It is customary to kiss the mezuzah when going in and out of a room. The mezuzah must be fixed in every room of the house except the bathroom and toilet. One should always kiss the mezuzah of the bedroom before going to sleep at night.

Tzitzit

A Jew who wears a four-cornered garment is required by Torah to fix Tzitzit, threads, to the four corners. A large four-cornered garment is called a Tallit Gadol. A small garment is called a Tallit Katan. Eight threads with five knots are attached to each corner

The Meaning of Tzitzit

Tying a knot has always been a good way of remembering things. The knots and threads in your Tzitzit remind you of the 613 mitzvot. The numerical value of Tzitzit is 600.

צ = 90 י = 10 צ = 90 י = 10 ת = 400…

.. added together equals 600.

Add on 5 knots and 8 threads, makes a total of 613. Looking at the Tzitzit reminds you of all the Mitzvot.

When do you wear Tzitzit?

Every morning, one prays with Tallit and Tefillin. Many people wear a Tallit Katan all day.

Upon wearing a Tallit Gadol one says the blessing: Baruch Ata….Lehitatef btzitzit.

Upon wearing a Tallit Katan one says the blessing: Baruch Ata…Al Mitzvat Tzitzit.

(N.B. one who wears a Tallit Gadol need not recite a separate blessing on the Tallit Katan).

Rabbi Nissan D. Dubov is director of Chabad Lubavitch in Wimbledon, UK.
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