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Shabbat Parashat Lech Lecha 5775

Ein Ayah: Focused Intent Vs. Spread Out Intent

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 1:40)

Gemara: One must touch his tefillin on a regular basis, as can be learned from a kal vachomer from the tzitz (head plate of the kohen gadol). If concerning the tzitz, which contains only one Name of Hashem, the Torah says, “It shall be on his forehead constantly” (Shemot 28:38), from which we learn that he should not take his mind off of it, regarding tefillin, which have many Names of Hashem in them, one should all the more certainly not take his mind off of them.


Ein Ayah: Life is made up of goals and means. One who follows the path of Hashem will not confuse the two, but one whose path is not straight is liable to be involved in the physical means of life without considering the goals. 

The level of understanding of the purpose of life will be very different for different people. It is clear that “all your actions shall be for the sake of Heaven” (Avot 2:12). However, the central point that Hashem is interested that each person do is not always clear. Only one with great intellect and a straight heart will understand deeply what his goal is. In such cases there is a high goal which is connected to myriad detailed actions that mysteriously serve this purpose.

Average people cannot identify, even momentarily, a unified high goal, and therefore their conceptions of that which is good are “scattered” among many partial points of value within life. For them, Torah and prayer, kindness and compassion, wisdom and prophecy, all play their own important purpose, which is indeed true. Each realm deserves to have many detailed actions related to its significant element. It remains compartmentalized until one reaches a higher level and is able to see the unified connection between the central goal and the sub-goal in each area and each of its detailed mitzvot. It is a wonderful level to be able to see this unity of purpose, which follows from the fact that Hashem is one and His Name is one, so that His ultimate purpose in the world is one at its root. The level of connection to Hashem of a person who reaches this higher level is much greater than that of one who is still in the lower levels of the process of seeking out spiritual goals and has more compartmentalized conceptions of good.

A suitable kohen gadol, from the perspective of pedigree and behavior, should be on the level whereby he perceives the divine on a high level and grasps the unity discussed above. That is the reason that the tzitz has only one mention of Hashem’s Name – “Holy to Hashem.” In contrast a simple person needs many appearances of the Name, with each one connected to another element of sanctity. Indeed each mitzva and element of sanctity and Torah is good and holy and is connected to a single central goal, even if the person does not see how. In the meantime, though, the mitzvot remain as candles lighting the way on the path of Hashem (see Tehillim 119:105). That is why there are many Names of Hashem in tefillin.

Any person, including a kohen gadol, needs many actions to maintain the connection with the central goal. Despite the high level evident in his tzitz, the kohen gadol still has to take steps to make sure that he does not take his mind off the tzitz. It is all the more clear that a simple Jew, who needs many Names of Hashem in his tefillin, needs measures to ensure he remains connected to the sanctity engendered in them. When he touches his tefillin, he is reminded of the mitzvot.

It is clear that those who claim that one’s mind can be focused on the light of the Torah, without practical mitzva actions that are hinted at by the touching, are wrong. It is Hashem, after all, who designated these mitzvot as necessary for each person to reach his spiritual destination. The tefillin, which signify the connection of our nation with Hashem for all the world to see (see Devarim 28:10), show that nationally this is needed as well.

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