June 19, 2020

Shabbat 28

While yesterday’s daf explored some of the laws pertaining to tzitzit, today’s daf (Shabbat 28b) addresses a number of laws relating to tefillin including the fact that tefillin must only be made from leather that originates from kosher animals. Yet, what is particularly significant, and particularly exquisite, is how – and from where – this law is derived.

As we know, this week we will be sitting at Seder with our Haggadot and telling the story of the Exodus – a mitzvah derived from the verse ‘and you shall tell your son on that day saying’ (Shemot 13:8). Yet it is noteworthy that the very next verse instructs us about tefillin: ‘and it shall be a sign on your arm and a remembrance between your eyes so that God’s Torah may be in your mouth’ (ibid. 13:9). What this means is that while we have an annual duty to tell the story of the Exodus at Seder night and speak about the ‘signs’ that God performed for us, how God took us out of Egypt with an outstretched ‘arm’, and the miracles that our eyes saw as we left Egypt, by wearing tefillin which the Torah refers to as a ‘sign on your arm’ and a ‘remembrance between your eyes’, we are meant to provide ourselves with a daily prompt of the Exodus which should thereby ensure that this story is ‘in our mouth’ (ie. is recalled on a daily basis).

In terms of our daf (Shabbat 28b), the Gemara cites this second verse – Shemot 13:9 – to teach us that tefillin must only be made from leather that originates from kosher animals, deriving this from the words ‘so that God’s Torah may be in your mouth’ from which the Rabbis deduce that tefillin can only be made with leather from an animal [whose meat] is permissible in your mouth (ie. is kosher). Yet it is of interest that according to this interpretation we don’t refer to the words that come out of our mouths, but rather, what we put into our mouth. Commenting on this verse, Rav Hirsch refers to Yechezkel 3:1 which metaphorically tells the prophet to ‘Eat this scroll’, and on the basis of this he explains that there are teachings and values that God wishes us to internalise to the point that they ‘become part of your very self’.

Given all this, while our daf derives an important yet technical lesson from Shemot 13:9 about the construction of tefillin, the context of this verse comes to teach us all about the story of the Exodus – a story that we will soon be telling with the symbolic foods that we put in our mouth, and with the words that we speak with our mouth.
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