What Kabbalah Teaches us About Tefillin, Are You Wearing It Correctly?

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

The two most well-known forms of tefllin are named after the medieval Rabbis, Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam. Although Jewish law dictates that the tefillin of Rashi (Ima) are the standard and mostly what everyone wears today, Rabbeinu Tam (Aba) are not insignificant.

Click here to learn how to strap Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam tefillin

Rabbi Solomon Ben Isaac (Shlomo Yitzhaki), aka, Rashi, is one of the most influential Jewish commentators in history. He was born in 1040 in Troyes, Champagne, in northern France. Rashi received an education in the yeshiva of Rabbi Yaakov ben Yakar in Worms, Germany at 17 years old. Many years after his death, the “Rashi Chapel” was built there. However, in World War II it was destroyed and rebuilt again in 1950. At 25, Rashi was a Rabbi that also worked the land of local vineyards with his family. In 1070, Rashi founded a yeshiva where he taught many disciples. In 1096, Rashi witnessed the massacre of friends and family members by the Crusaders on the way to Israel. Rashi died in 1105 in Troyes at the age of 65. A few contributions of Rashi are his comprehensive commentaries on the Bible and the Babylonian Talmud. Until today, Rashi’s commentaries on the Bible are a foundational element of Jewish education and are often taught side by side with the Torah. Rabbeinu Yakov ben Meir Tam, aka, Rabbeinu Tam, is the grandson of Rashi. Rabbeinu Tam was born in 1100 in the French city of Ramerupt when Rashi was 60 years old, he become to be one of the greatest Talmudists of his age. While being a Rabbi, Rabbeinu Tam was a great financier and close of the Governor of the province. After his father’s death, Rabbeinu Tam became the head of a great yeshiva in his hometown. Rabbeinu Tam went through a devastating experience in 1147 when the Crusaders forced their way into town and pillaged and massacred many Jews. This event happened on the second day of Shavuot. They broke into Rabbeinu Tam’s house, wounded him, and took all his wealth. After this shattering experience, Rabbeinu Tam moved to Troyes, his home town and continued his studies and his work. In 1149 Rabbeinu Tam completed his famous book called, Sefer HaYoshor. Rabbeinu Tam was also an authority in the Hebrew language and grammar where he promoted the correct use, pronunciation, and spelling of Hebrew. Rabbeinu Tam was also a poet and composer. Some of his poems are famously known and sung today. Rabbeinu Tam died in 1171 at the age of 71 on the 4th of Tammuz.


According to Rabbi Yakov Abuchatzeria, the renowned Mekkubal from Morocco in his highly profound Kabbalistic book Machsof HaLavan, a person does not fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin unless he wears both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam, simultaneously. Both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam must be worn together for the entire prayer of Shacharit. The Ben ish Hai writes in his book HaLachot (Vayera) that from the time of Moses (13th BCE) until the period of the Geonim (589 CE), both Rashi and Rabenu Tam were worn together.


According to Kabbalah, the tefillin of the head represents the mochin (brains) from ABA and IMA that enters ZA (Za’ir Anpin, partzuf -face of God). The tefillin of the arm represent the mochin (brains) of NoK (Nukvah - Shechina). When you put on Rashi and Rabenu Tam, you receive mochin (brains) from BOTH. The head tefillin has a Shin (ש) with four branches on one side and three branches on the opposite side. This is because we get four brains (Chochma, Bina, Hassadim, Gevurot) that inside our head convert into three brains (Chohma, Bina, Daat). These are the right brain, left brain, and back brains made of two.


Wearing both pairs of tefillin, Rashi and Rabeinu Tam, SIMULTANEOUSLY, elevates you to a higher level of holiness and Spirituality

The Order of Putting on Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam: In the morning prayer Shacharit, Rashi (Ima) is always above Rabbeinu Tam (Aba). Place Rashi high on the left arm (right arm for a lefty) and Rabbeinu Tam below it next to it. The straps of Rashi (wider) go above and cover the straps of Rabbeinu Tam (narrower). On the head, Rashi is in front and Rabbeinu Tam is behind Rashi. Shimusha Raba the tefillin for Mincha have the equivalent power of Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam together. They are the highest sefirah, Keter, that illuminates the sefirot Chochma (wisdom) and Bina (understanding). Shimusha Raba according to the Ari’zal, must be donned during the weekdays, they cannot be worn past sundown and must be removed immediately after Mincha. This is why we do not put Shimusha Raba on Fridays before Shabbat and Mincha before holidays (unless you pray Mincha very early).


The Significance of Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam

Rabbeinu Tam emanates the divine energetic flow of Chochma, while Rashi emanates the divine flow of Bina. By wearing both Rashi and Rabenu Tam together we unify Aba and Ima, the divine name of Hashem (Yod Hey in Yod Hey Vav Hey). According to the Zohar, it is forbidden to separate Aba and Ima therefore, a man is obligated to don both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam, simultaneously during the entire morning prayer.


Some, put on tefillin and switch them halfway through the prayer; according to Kabbalah, this is worse than NOT putting on Tefilin at all because the SEPARATION of Aba and Ima causes a huge dysfunction in Heaven. Moreover, we can see the separation of Aba and Ima causes dysfunction in homes as well.


So what are the differences between Rashi (Ima) and Rabbeinu Tam’s (Aba) tefillin? The order of the four Biblical passages is written inside them. The Biblical passages that are inscribed on parchment and placed inside the tefillin are passages that discuss the unity of God. They describe the miracles Hashem performed for us when He took us out of Egypt, and Hashem’s almighty power and dominion to do whatever He wants in the physical and spiritual worlds. In other words, these verses carry the fundamentals of the Jewish faith.


The Passages Inside the Tefillin:

  • the obligation to remember the Exodus (Exodus 13:1-10)

  • the responsibility to spread Judaism to our descendants (Exodus 11-16)

  • the Shema – the proclamation of God's unity, and the mitzvah to love God (Deut. 6:4-9)

  • the implications of our fulfillment of the Torah (Deut. 11:13-21)


According to Rashi (Ima), the order of the scripture passages within the tefillin follows the order of how they appear in the Bible. According to Rabbeinu Tam (Aba), the third passage, which is the Shema Yisrael, should be placed last, reversing the order of the third and fourth passages. This difference of opinion as to the proper order of tefillin did not start with these Sages, nor end with them.


After a few years, the Ari’zal revealed the Kabbalistic meaning behind the Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. The Ari’zal had received revelation from Elijah the prophet himself that both orders of tefillin are correct. Both sets need to be worn in accordance with a special procedure. The Ari’zal explained the tefillin worn upon the head boosts activation of certain parts of the brain and mind, stimulating them to be sensitive to the reception of aspects of the spiritual light. The Rashi tefillin, the Ari’zal says in Sha’ar HaKavanot, correspond to the sefirat Binah and assist the wearer in receiving enlightenment from the “Mochin of Ima (the brain of Ima)” which emanated from Binah. The Rabbeinu Tam tefillin have even a higher source. They correspond to the sefirat Chochma and assist the wearer in receiving enlightenment from the “Mochin of Aba (the brain of Aba)” which emanated from Chochma.


Prior to the Ari’zals revelation of the Kabbalistic meaning of the Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, devoted men would wear both types of tefillin. No one knew what was correct, some even until this day wear Rashi Tefillin during Shaharit (morning prayer service) until the Amidah (ending prayer). After that, Rashi tefillin are removed and the Rabbeinu Tam tefillin are put on until the end of the prayer service. According to Rabbi Yosef Karo, the writer of Shulhan Aruch, Orah Haim 34:2-3, one who is devoted to Torah should wear both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam for the entire service. Wearing two sets was not an innovation of Rabbi Karo’s. He was quoting sages of previous generations. According to those sages, one set of tefillin was the right one and the other set was obsolete. Even the Talmud states (Menahot 34) that there is enough room on the head for two sets of tefillin. Could it be the sages were hinting at something?


The two Mochin (brains) whether they are in the spiritual world or within the head of man, are meant to function together. Therefore, the Ari’zal revealed that the two sets of tefillin which assist in brain and spiritual activity also must be worn together. The two sets are of equal importance. One is not obsolete, both must be worn together.

In conclusion, every Jewish man regardless of his education and level of spirituality should wear two sets of tefillin, together. This is the truth according to the Kabbalah. The sages of the Talmud knew and hinted this over a thousand years before the Ari’zal was given permission to publicly reveal this knowledge. Tefillin is the anchor of the Jewish bond between God and His people, a tool for spiritual connection, and a sacred practice dating back to our ancestors. Putting on tefillin correctly is of the utmost importance in bringing mercy and redemption for us all. If you have any questions on how to receive a proper pair of tefillin or anything related to tefillin, please send an email to elizalavi7@gmail.com. Did you learn something new from this blog post? Click here to support the work at Visual Kabbalah


The image explains the spiritual system of the tefillin. Source visualkabbalah.com


The image explains what is inside the tefillin. Source: visualkabbalah.com




Sources:

Mindel, N. (2021). Rabbeinu Tam. Retrieved from https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/111838/jewish/Rabbeinu-Tam.htm


Rabbi, A. (1996). The Three Tefillin of the Kabbalah. Retrieved from http://www.koshertorah.com/essays19.html (please ask to pdf of this exact work)


Rabbi, S. (2021). Tefillin: Everything you need to know about those powerful black boxes, placed on the head and arm. Retrieved from https://www.aish.com/jl/m/pb/48969816.html


Ratzabi, H. (2021). Who Was Rashi?. Retrieved from https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/who-was-rashi/

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