[This week’s Toronto Torah is here!]
Wow, what a trip today. We drove from Toronto to Long Island, 532 miles, with one stop along the way. Great weather, great traffic, kids were great, thank Gd – but still grueling. I don’t plan on doing that drive in one go again, if I can at all avoid it.
Along the way, I decided to write this post on common Tefillin errors; feel free to write in with other mistakes you have noticed:
1. The knots matter
The batim [boxes] are the most eye-catching part of the tefillin. Certainly, they are the “holiest” part in that they contain the parchment sections on which we write the Torah’s Tefillin prescription. Nonetheless, the Torah also says וקשרתם, that you shall tie these boxes to your arm and head, and so the knots are also significant.
Specifically, placement of the knots is significant:
The arm knot is supposed to sit immediately beside the box, closer to the heart (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 27:2). The Aruch haShulchan noted that Ashkenazim, who wrap the tefillin toward themselves, have a difficult time keeping the knot flush with the box; we pull it away from the box as we tug the strap tight. Sofrim often use gidin [sinew] to attach it, but those snap after a while. For years I used a rubber band to hold it to the box; I have now find a way to do the same, but in a cleaner way, with a string.
The head knot is supposed to sit in the middle of the back of one’s head, at the upper part of the soft spot, just below the base of the cranium (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 27:10). People often forget to check that this is centered, focused as they are on the box in front.
2. Lefty/Righty switching
This follows from Item 1. I have heard Lefties say they can use a Righty’s tefillin and just shift the box around. Be careful; make sure the knot is upright, and between the box and the heart.
3. Bandages, rings and watches
People are often very careful about avoiding interruptions between the tefillin and their skin. This is good, but sometimes people go overboard.
The rule is that there may be no interruption between the box and the skin, and we are strict regarding the straps that fasten the box to the skin as well, and regarding the knots (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 27:4; Mishneh Berurah 27:16); make sure your yarmulka is not under the knot of the head tefillin.
However, we do not apply this to the rest of the straps, such as the seven loops around the arm. Certainly, one should not remove bandages on his arm or hand, and potentially dirty the tefillin or, worse, cause infection, in order to keep those straps flush with the skin!
4. Checking tefillin
It is popular to suggest that tefillin should be checked once or twice in seven years. In fact, though, tefillin which are worn regularly and which are kept in moderate temperature and humidity require no checking at all. (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 39:10; Mishneh Berurah 39:26).
One should regularly examine the exterior of the tefillin boxes to ensure that they retain their integrity, blackness and shape. One should check the straps to ensure that they retain their blackness. One must never leave tefillin in extreme or cold, or in very humid spaces.
One should have the parchments of his tefillin checked if the tefillin were left in very humid areas or in extreme temperature. I cannot give specific numbers; as the Mishneh Berurah writes, you know it when you see it.