A while back, I came across this interesting FaceBook post (in a group titled “God is the King” [HaShem hū ha-Melekh]):
The Hebrew text translates to the following:
In the parchment of our tefillin, it is written ‘hear o Israel, the LORD, our God, the LORD is one’ [Deuteronomy 6:4]. The Holy One, blessed be He, puts on tefillin every day. And what is written in His tefillin? ‘And who is like your people, Israel, one nation in the land’ [1 Chronicles 17:21].
While one could say that’s just some social media post, the line of thought expressed therein does have support in the Rabbinic corpora. So it seemed it would be fun to compose a lighthearted blog entry exploring the subject.
For a brief bit of introduction, tefillin are collections of straps and black cubes which Jews wrap around themselves for prayer. Inside the cubes are passages from the Torah, including Deuteronomy 6:4. The practice is based on somewhat of a rather literal interpretation of verses like Deuteronomy 6:8.
Now, the social media post at the beginning of this blog entry followed the Rabbinic corpora in declaring that God, too, puts on tefillin. For example, the Zohar states bluntly “the Holy One, blessed be He, puts on tefillin”. The Babylonian Talmud also states that God wears tefillin, and that specifically the above mentioned verse from 1 Chronicles is found within God’s tefillin.
What is particularly fascinating, here, is the juxtaposition of Deuteronomy 6:4 and 1 Chronicles 17:21 (and specifically the word eHad [אחד] in each verse). A similar line appears in the Zohar, declaring “just as He [i.e. God] is one, so too Israel is one”. Getting back to the tefillin, it is interesting to think of human tefillin declaring that God is one [eHad], while God’s tefillin declares that Israel is one [eHad], as the oneness of Israel does not necessitate that Israel is therefore unipersonal.
On an interesting closing note, the previously cited text from the Talmud also quotes God as declaring the following to Israel:
Translation: You have made me one unit [HaTībah aHat] in the world, as it is said ‘hear o Israel, the LORD, our God, the LORD is one,’ and I will make you one unit [HaTībah aHat] in the world, as it is said ‘and who is like your people, Israel, one nation.’
(1) At the time of this writing, the post can be found here (but sharing a screen shot seemed prudent, in case it later disappears): https://www.facebook.com/king613/posts/92656194586
(2) Muslims may find the cubes of interest, as there does seem to be something of an at least mild visual parallel in Muslims circumambulating the Ka`ba and Jews wrapping tefillin around their arms. In one case, the man moves around the cube, while in the other, the cube —a cube which has within it a declaration of the oneness of God, no less— moves around the man, though perhaps one could say it’s all relative to one’s frame of reference.
(3) As a disclaimer, there are rabbis who would argue that the approach to the relevant verses is neither strictly literal nor strictly allegorical. See for example Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, “G-d Centered or Machloket-Centered: Which is Normative Judaism? A Response to Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller of Chicago,” Algemeiner Journal, 27 March, 1998, p. B4.
(4) I would hope that it goes without saying that I do not assume such has to be intended literally.
(5) Cf. parshat Wayetse, para. 6, in the Sūlam, which can be seen on the second page of this PDF: http://www.ashlagbaroch.org/Zohar/Vaizea.pdf
(6) Talmūd Bavlī, tractate Berakhot 6A.
(7) Cf. parshat Shemot, para. 288, in the Sūlam, which can be found on page 92 of this PDF: http://www.ashlagbaroch.org/Zohar/shmot.pdf
(8) Technical note: the word HaTībah can mean unit, group, brigade. However, Marcus Jastrow’s entry on the word proposes that, in the case of the relevant Talmudic text, it means “object of love”. See Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, (New York: G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1903), p. 449.