Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic 

Results of Forgetting; Talis and Tefilin to the Rescue: Tying the Knot 

In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we read the second Chapter of the Shma prayer, in which the Mitzvah of Tefilin is again mentioned. One of the fundamental teaching of Chassidus, as stressed by its founder the Baal Shem Tov, is the principle of continuous creation: G-d opted to keep on re-creating the whole of Creation on an ongoing basis, to the point that, should the flow of divine energy be removed from any created entity, it would revert to its initial “state” of nonexistence.   This is based on various sources, amongst them the Midrash on Tehilim, commenting on the verse "forever your Word, Oh G-d, stands in the sky" (Tehilim 119) (Tanya II:3). A corollary of this principle ought to be the inability of anyone giving credence to this principle to sin: how is it possible to transgress the Will of He Who constantly keeps one in a state of existence?  Furthermore, in cases of obstacles standing in the way of doing positive mitzvah acts, how can one be dismayed by the enormity of the obstacles if these very same obstacles are likewise created anew at the time they are perceived as obstacles: surely the One Who commanded us in observing the mitzvoth would not create insurmountable stumbling blocks at the very same time we strive to fulfill His Will?  This is indeed a mighty question for anyone believing fully in the truth of this re-creation process.   The only answer is that, though we believe and know, we tend to forget.   This is why there are certain mitzvoth specially geared to remind us of truths, such as tzitzis and tefilin: tzitzis "remind us of all the mitzvoth" and tefilin are to be "a remembrance between your eyes".  This is also why these two mitzvoth are involved with knots: a knot is a site where the string or rope of connection is doubled and redoubled.  Forgetfulness weakens the connection while the knots--the ability to remember and be reminded--- strengthen it.  Since time immemorial human beings have attempted to understand life’s riddles. Where do we come from? What is our purpose? What does death spell? .   Throughout history these questions have been addressed by great philosophers basing themselves on limited intellectual analysis. True prophets have had supra-rational experiences of G-d revealing Himself to them. In a similar vein, the Jewish people is the only nation who can claim, based on historical evidence, having  experienced divine revelation at Mt. Sinai, with Moshe at the top of the mountain and three million Jews at the bottom. 

Basic Elements of Faith 

Our faith and belief is that G-d is Infinite, without beginning nor end, and that He transcends all limited parameters.  As humans function within limited parameters, we cannot ascend beyond those parameters… unless we are pulled up through divine intervention or revelation—which is what happened at Sinai, setting the tone for all future generations. Being philosophically convinced about Creation is not automatic, as taking space and matter at face value seems to have us feel that “here it is and here it always was”. Except that there is some logical element: it stands to reason that the One Who has no beginning is the One Who has the ability to generate beings who also seem not to have a beginning.  In our inner psyche we feel as if we always were! (Tanya Igeret HaKodesh 20).   But through revelation,  G-d gives the ability to limited man to connect, rise up and bond with Him, our Father and King, and His infinity.   How so? By doing actions based on His Will: I want you to do My Mitzvoth/Commandments, which serve as a connecting link to My infinity (the word “mitzvah” means both “commandment” and “connection”). As mentioned above, though we believe and know, we nevertheless tend to forget.  Indeed, the root of much evil can be traced to the spirit of forgetfulness of basic principles that most Jews and mankind believe in, but usually give mere lip service to. By strengthening the element of memory through the mitzvoth that provide such strengthening ---talis and tefilin---all elements of evil will eventually fall away. 

How Torah and Mitzvos Raise Us Up to a Higher Perception 

Torah is the body of knowledge through which G-d channels His Will and Wisdom and which is thoroughly united with G-d in a state of ultimate unity. In His supreme ability (isn’t He is All-Able after all?!), G-d contracted the body of knowledge vested in Torah so that it be accessible to the human mind and through which an additional state of connection is achieved: through action-Mitzvoth we connect to His Will (who willed that we keep Shabbos, eat Kosher, observe laws of family purity, don tefillin, etc…) ; and through striving to understand Torah concepts and teachings, each one at his and her level, we connect to His Wisdom vested in Torah.  How fortunate are we, the chosen Jewish people, who have been given easy access to connect and bond with G-d through properly observing His Commandments and  absorbing the divine wisdom of Torah! In a way, this is more comparable to the process of prophecy which a process of “seeing” G-dliness rather than merely a philosophical process This is expressed to the point in this week’s Sidra (Deut. 11:2-7) with Moshe telling the people that he is not talking to their future children who might react by saying “we have not seen nor do we know about all this”, but “I am speaking to you “for with your own eyes you have seen the great works that G-d did” and hence there is no way for you to refute this. In our own lives we  often see certain undeniable circumstances which likewise should prompt us to “keep the Mitzvoth which I command you today (11:8). 

The Gradual Process of Revelation 

But so far, we still need the effect of Tefilin and Tzitzis to remind us of truths.  However, when is it necessary to stress the element of remembering, only in situations in which it is possible to forget! But when one actually sees, it is not possible to "close one's eyes" to a truth that stares at you, and therefore there is then no need to stress having to remember-- as in the case of principles in which one believes, of whose veracity he is convinced, but which he cannot actually see. In the course of history it was only the true prophets who were recipients of the revelation compared to “seeing”, whereby they related to the essential knowledge of G-d-- vs. the existential knowledge of G-d,  being merely convinced of His existence but not relating to His Essence. It was during all these centuries that we needed the daily reminding effect of Tefilin and Tzitzis.  Of the Moshiach era, however, the verse states: "all flesh will see that the Mouth of G-d has spoken (Isaah. 40:5). At that time, the G-dly Power that gives continued existence and life  will be clearly seen by all.  It will then not be possible to "forget or look the other way"; this is why all evil will then be eradicated, having no more "leg of ignorance and ignoring" to stand on, speedily in our days! 

Based on Likutey Sichos Vol.21 pg. 232-237 

In honor of Yom Holedes/Birthdate of Yechezkel ben Sarah on Menachem Av 22.