Project Genesis

Mitzvos (Commandments)

Teffilin and Mezuzos

Anatomy of the Tefillin

Can you tell me what are the names of the different parts of the Tefillin (phylacteries) and what are their significance (meanings)?

Here are the basic components of Tefillin:

a) The parchments upon which are written the 4 sections in the Torah which
mention the Tefillin. The parchments are made from the hide of a kosher

b) The parchments are placed in perfectly square, black boxes made from
leather. The head Tefillin contain 4 small boxes pressed tightly together,
while the arm Tefillin is composed of only one box.

c) The boxes contain a wide base called a titura.

d) The base has a opening through which the straps pass. This opening is
called the ma’abarta.

e) The boxes are sewn together using thread made from the veins or sinews of
a kosher animal.

f) The Tefillin are bound with leather straps, dyed black on the outside.

The Tefillin are rich in symbolism and meaning. The Talmud explains that God
himself wears Tefillin. Thus, the symbolism inherent in the Tefillin are
more than arbitrary symbols, but correspond to the Tefillin that God wears.
Some thoughts regarding these components of Tefillin:

a) One of the four sections included in the Tefillin (written on the
parchment) is the section known as the Shema which contains the commandment
to love God: “And you shall love God with all your heart, soul and might.”
The arm Tefillin are worn right next to the heart, and on the arm which
represents the might, while the head Tefillin are worn on the head which
contains the brain, the seat of the soul. Thus Tefillin represent the love
we have for God (and He for us) in a very real way.

b) The Tefillin are composed (almost) entirely of various animal products.
By wearing the Tefillin, we are able to elevate the physical and use our
physical and animal inner self for the service of God. The elevation of the
physical is one of mankind’s’ major missions in life.

c) The parchments are contained in a black box, which represents the concept
that at times God’s reasons are hidden from us as if in black box (note that
scientists use the term black box to refer to an entity with some unknown

d) The two straps hang down from the head—one on the left side of the
body, and one to the right. This represents the two basic forces God employs
in creation: love and judgment.

Of course, there are many more deeper meanings, but I have presented only a
few thoughts. If you are interested in delving further, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan,
of blessed memory, wrote a fantastic, relatively short book, on Tefillin,
which I am sure you will find to be a fascinating read. You can purchase the
book here.

Be well,
Rabbi Yoel Spotts

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