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Tefillin: The Relationship between the Shel Yad and the Shel Rosh

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Jul 31, 2009
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Tefillin: The Relationship between the Shel Yad and the Shel Rosh


The Torah records the mitzvah of tefillin (phylacteries) four times.  In all four sections, the Torah enumerates two components to the mitzvah.  First, one must tie it on one's arm. [The Torah only uses the verb "to tie" in two of the sections.] This refers to the tefillah shel yad.  [Tefillah is the singular of tefillin.]  Second, one must place it on one's head. This refers to the tefillah shel rosh.  In this issue, we will discuss the relationship between the shel yad and the shel rosh.


 Tefillin: One Mitzvah or Two Mitzvot?


The Mishna, Menachot 38a, states that lacking the tefillah shel yad does not invalidate the fulfillment of the tefillah shel rosh and lacking the tefillah shel rosh does not invalidate the fulfillment of the tefillah shel yad.  This implies that the two components are mutually independent.  For this reason, Rambam (1135-1204), Sefer HaMitzvot, Aseh no. 13, writes that tefillah shel yad and tefillah shel rosh should be counted as two separate mitzvot.  Nevertheless, R. Yehudai Gaon (8th century), Halachot Gedolot, Mitzvot Aseh no. 2, records tefillin as one mitzvah, implying that the tefillah shel yad and the tefillah shel rosh are two components of the same mitzvah.


There are two basic approaches to understand the dispute between Rambam and R. Yehudai Gaon.  One can explain that the dispute is contingent on the principles of counting mitzvot.  The Gemara, Makkot 23b, states that there are 613 mitzvot, but does not list which mitzvot to include on the list.  All of the commentators who list the 613 mitzvot have a set of rules regarding which mitzvot are independent mitzvot and which mitzvot are subcategories of other mitzvot.  Rambam is of the opinion that whenever there are two components of a mitzvah and one can fulfill each component of the mitzvah without the other, they are counted as two separate mitzvot.  R. Yehudai Gaon is of the opinion that the ability to fulfill one component without the other does not necessarily provide each component with independent status for the purpose of counting the mitzvot.


Alternatively, one can understand that the dispute between Rambam and R. Yehudai Gaon is contingent on how one understands the relationship between the tefillah shel yad and the tefillah shel rosh.  Rashba (1235-1310), Menachot 36a, s.v. Sach, suggests that the question of whether there is one mitzvah of tefillin or two separate mitzvot is a matter of dispute between Rashi (1040-1105) and Rabbeinu Tam (c.1100-1171) that has halachic ramifications beyond how to count the mitzvot.


 The Dispute between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam


The Gemara, Menachot 36a, states that if one speaks between the placing of the tefillah shel yad and the tefillah shel rosh, he recites two berachot on the tefillah shel rosh.  Rashi, ad loc., s.v. Lo Sach, writes that ordinarily, one recites one beracha (l'hani'ach tefillin) that covers both the shel yad and the shel rosh.  However, if one speaks between placing the shel yad and the shel rosh, one must repeat the beracha of l'hani'ach tefillin and recite an additional beracha of al mitzvat tefillin.  Tosafot, ad loc., s.v. Lo Sach, quote Rabbeinu Tam who disagrees and maintains that even in an ordinary situation, one recites the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin upon placing the shel rosh.  If one speaks between the shel yad and the shel rosh, one must repeat the beracha of l'hani'ach tefillin and then recite the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin.


Rashba, op. cit., explains that the dispute between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam is contingent on whether there is one mitzvah of tefillin or two separate mitzvot.  If one assumes that there is one mitzvah of tefillin, it is logical to recite only one beracha that covers both the shel yad and the shel rosh.  If one assumes that there is one mitzvah of tefillah shel yad and one mitzvah of tefillah shel rosh, it is logical that each one warrants its own separate beracha.


Rabbeinu Tam's opinion requires further clarification.  If the proper beracha for the shel rosh is al mitzvat tefillin, why does one recite two berachot if one speaks between the shel yad and the shel rosh?  Shouldn't it be sufficient to recite the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin?


The Rishonim offer two different explanations to Rabbeinu Tam's opinion.  Rashba explains that when one speaks between the shel yad and the shel rosh, the beracha of l'hani'ach is recited because the shel yad requires a repetition of beracha.  The repeated beracha does not relate to the shel rosh.  However, Tosafot, Berachot 60b, s.v. Asher, contend that according to Rabbeinu Tam, when one repeats the beracha of l'hani'ach, it is because the shel rosh normally requires both berachot.  If one spoke between the shel yad and the shel rosh, the initial beracha of l'hani'ach can no longer cover the shel rosh and it must be repeated.  Therefore, Tosafot contend that if one does not have a shel yad and only places a shel rosh, both berachot are recited.  Rashba would ostensibly disagree and only require the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin when only placing a shel rosh.  R. Yosef Ibn Chabib (14th to 15th century), Nimmukei Yosef, Hilchot Tefillin 8a, s.v. Lo Sach, rules explicitly that if one only places the shel rosh, he only recites the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin.


R. Baruch D. Povarski, Bad Kodesh Vol. IV, no. 66, explains the opinion of Nimmukei Yosef (and Rashba) based on Rambam's formulation of the two mitzvot of tefillin.  Rambam, in introducing Hilchot Tefillin writes that there are two mitzvot: One mitzvah of tefillin being on one's head and one mitzvah of tying the tefillin on one's arm.  As such, the two mitzvot are two distinct mitzvot with two distinct actions and therefore require two distinct berachot.


R. Yosef D. Soloveitchik (1903-1993, cited in Eretz HaTzvi 3:16) explains the opinion of Tosafot that Rabbeinu Tam requires two berachot even when one only places the shel rosh.  R. Soloveitchik contends that both mitzvot require the beracha of l'hani'ach for the actual performance of the mitzvah.  Yet, there is an additional beracha that one recites upon placing the shel rosh.  The beracha of al mitzvat tefillin is not a beracha on the performance of the mitzvah, but rather on the added sanctity that is imbued in a person when he places the shel rosh on his head.  This is similar to the beracha of l'hachniso b'vrito recited at a circumcision.  When the child undergoes a circumcision, he is imbued with added sanctity and therefore, an additional beracha is recited.


 Rambam's Opinion


Rambam, Hilchot Tefillin 4:4-6, rules that when one only places the shel yad, he recites the beracha of l'hani'ach.  If one only places the shel rosh, he recites the beracha of al mitzvah tefillin.  If one places both the shel yad and shel rosh, he recites one beracha: l'hani'ach tefillin.  If one is placing both the shel yad and shel rosh and speaks between the shel yad and shel rosh, he recites the beracha of al mitzvat when placing the shel rosh.


Rambam's ruling requires further explanation.  Rambam lists tefillah shel yad and tefillah shel rosh as two separate mitzvot.  Yet, Rambam rules that in an ordinary situation, one recites the beracha of l'hani'ach to cover the shel yad and the shel rosh.


R. Soloveitchik, Shiurei HaGrid, B'Inyanei Tefillin (page 62), explains Rambam's opinion that ideally, one should recite l'hani'ach on the shel yad and al mitzvat tefillin on the shel rosh.  However, in order to minimize the number of berachot recited, the rabbis of the Talmud instituted that l'hani'ach is sufficient to cover both the shel yad and the shel rosh.  In a situation when one recites a beracha on the shel rosh alone, either because he does not have a shel yad or because he spoke between the shel yad and the shel rosh, the proper beracha of al mitzvat tefillin is recited.


The Codification of This Discussion


R. Yosef Karo (1488-1575), Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 25:5 and 25:9, codifies the opinion of Rambam.  Rama (1520-1572) ad loc., rules in accordance with the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam that in an ordinary situation, one recites l'hani'ach for the shel yad and al mitzvat tefillin for the shel rosh.  He adds that one should show slight deference to the opinions that one should only recite l'hani'ach by reciting the phrase "Baruch Shem K'vod etc.," immediately after placing the shel rosh.  This phrase is the phrase one recites after accidentally reciting a beracha in vain.


Halacha:

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