In summarizing the effect of the Purim miracle, the Megillah states, “For the Jews there was light (orah), joy, gladness and honor.”1 The Gemara comments:2 “‘Light’ is Torah; ‘joy’ is Yom Tov; ‘gladness’ is circumcision, milah; and ‘honor’ is tefillin.”

These four elements are signs that signify the Jews’ relationship with G‑d.3 Haman decreed that Jews not be allowed to perform these mitzvos. With the miracle of Purim, Haman’s evil decree was nullified and “For the Jews there was light and joy, gladness and honor” — Torah, Yom Tov, milah and tefillin.

In one form or another, these signsare seemingly found by non-Jews as well: Gentiles also study in a manner that they readily acknowledge the great wisdom in Torah; nations also have their own festivals; and circumcision is also performed by many non-Jews.

So, too, regarding tefillin: just as Jews wear tefillin to show their allegiance to G‑d, so do other nations wear, l’havdil, certain signs, so that one readily recognizes to what nation or tribe they belong.

This being so, the following question arises: When G‑d desired to make signs that distinguish the Jewish people from all other nations, why didn’t He choose uniquely Jewish symbols and signs, matters that non-Jews do not relate to in any way at all?

A distinguishing sign and symbol is required only when two matters have some measure of comparison; if they are totally dissimilar, no distinguishing sign is necessary.

This is to say that the signs designed to distinguish the Jewish people from other nations are not meant to distinguish their souls, wherein no distinction need be made.4 Rather, these signs come to differentiate between the bodies of the Jew and non-Jew, as outwardly, all bodies are alike. Hence the signs, substantiating that holiness is attached to the very body of a Jew.5

These signs are therefore such that — similar to the bodies themselves —superficially they appear to be found by other nations as well, and nevertheless, they are profoundly different:

The Alter Rebbe explains6 that the term “‘orah’ is Torah,” using the feminine noun orah rather than the masculine noun or, refers to the Oral Torah. For the Oral Torah is the “feminine” recipient of the “masculine” Written Torah, as the Oral Torah logically explains those matters of seminal wisdom that are stated with extreme brevity in the Written Torah.

Oral Torah and Written Torah are approached very differently. When studying or reading the Written Torah, one recites a blessing over it even when he understands not one word of it. For with regard to the Written Torah the main aspect is its intrinsic holiness, the sanctity of the letters themselves. Comprehension of the Written Torah is thus of secondary import.7

This is not at all so concerning the Oral Torah. Here, if one does not comprehend what he is learning, he is not permitted to recite the blessing over Torah, as study of the Oral Torah without comprehension does not constitute Torah study at all. Regarding the Oral Torah, comprehension is of greatest import.

The above notwithstanding, Jews also approach the Oral Torah with simple faith that transcends logic. Thus, a Jew will not adjudicate Torah law according to his own logical conclusions if his opinion is contradicted by an earlier Torah sage, one whose legal opinions are accepted by most Jews as binding.

The above holds true even when according to the rules of logic the person feels himself to be completely in the right. Unlike secular wisdom, Torah logic and faith go hand in hand.

The same holds true regarding “‘joy’ is Yom Tov”: Yom Tov is celebrated by eating meat, drinking wine, etc. — matters that are purely physical. A non-Jewish celebration under such circumstances might evolve into something less than holy.

The Jewish celebration of Yom Tov, however, is permeated with holiness and a sense of awe and fear of G‑d8 — the material and the spiritual aspects of the holiday and festival are wholly congruent and harmonious.

With regard to milah, while a non-Jew may perform it for health reasons, a Jew will also be cognizant of his enhanced spirituality resulting from this “sign of the holy covenant.”

So, too, with tefillin. Tefillin is so much more than a mere symbol. A Jew achieves an enduring unity with G‑d by wearing the leather boxes and straps of tefillin. He is able to do so because G‑d willed it that these physical objects — within which is inscribed the Shema, etc. — be transformed into vessels and containers of unity and holiness.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, pp. 916-922.