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Thought for the Day: תפילין וציצית/Nature vs. Nurture

The role of nature versus nature has been a topic of interest mainly to the academic community until the end of last century, when more and more assumptions of what's hardwired were being challenged.  This century, of course, the whole issue is a political football and the discussion has been cleansed of all rational content.  I will only note that the same group who claims that even gender is entirely nurture (a genotypic boy can, according to them, choose to be a girl), also claims that sexual orientation is entirely nature (hey!  I was born this way!).  Baruch HaShem, we have the Torah -- eternal and objective -- and are therefore not subject to the whims of passing fancy.

All mitzvos need to be done with intention, but that is only (oh how that expression sets my teeth on edge) לכתחילה.  However, if the mitzvah were performed with no (well, one does needs to conscious) specific intention, one has still fulfilled his obligation, בדיעבד; not recommending, just noting.  There are some mitzvos, though, that require special intention/attention, and if done without thinking are not fulfilled, even בדיעבד.  Two of those are ציצית and תפילין.  The mitzvah of ציצית must be performed "in order to remember the mitzvos".  The mitzvah of תפילין must be done "in order to have the Torah of HaShem in you mouth".  (Yes, I should have the source text noted here; I'll either do it myself later, or one of you kind souls will send me the references and I'll edit them in.)

Even more, both of these items need to be made from the beginning with the proper intent.  That pretty much means that -- at least לכתחילה -- they need to be made by someone who is obligated in them.  They are Torah obligations on Jewish men, so they should be made by a Jewish man.  (I am talking here about putting the תפילין boxes together; the parchment in the תפילין absolutely must be written by a Jewish man.)  בדיעבד. a Jewish woman can make them; and in some cases even a non-Jew can make them.  What about a Jewish boy?  Since he is not just obligated at the Torah level, his status is not much different than a Jewish woman in this regard.  With one notable exception:  A Jewish boy can לכתחילה make ציצית for himself to wear.  But there's more; he can even continue to wear them -- לכתחילה -- even when he becomes bar mitzvah.  There is no such dispensation for תפילין.  A Jewish boy may make תפילין for himself to wear while he is still a boy, but once he becomes bar mitzvah they need to be taken apart an put back together by a Jewish man (could be himself).  See the Biur Halacha on 39:2, d.h. בכל תיקון עשיתן.  (I have that reference because I just learned during my commute to work on the train.)

While I saw the difference noted, I did not see anyone offering an explanation.  I am therefore (so bold with my new סמיכה!) suggesting a reason for the difference.  (I am also not so afraid, as there are not halachic ramifications to my reasoning on this issue.)  The mitzvah of ציצית is to remember the mitzvos by surrounding ourselves with mitzvos.  That is, we are altering our environment -- the environment that nurtures us -- to be conducive to mitzvah observance.  The mitzvah of תפילין, on the other hand, is so that the Torah of HaShem will be in our mouths; that is, we carefully ingesting something so that are very nature will be changed.  As powerful an influence as our environment is, I can always change it, or at least ignore it, or at least "consider the source".  When it comes to our essence, who/what we are, though, that's not an influence, that's ourselves.  We may need to change ourselves, but that change comes at a price and is slow.  Therefore, I suggest, the Torah allows certainly leniencies with ציצית (nurture) that it does not permit with תפילין (nature).

Here's the take away.  We are very careful to eat kosher food; we all appreciate that we are affected by what we put in our mouths.  What we may not appreciate is that our eyes, ears, and thoughts are also consumers that are bringing things into our spiritual self.  Not saying what to read, view, listen to, or contemplate; just remember that all we consume becomes a part of ourselves.  Be sure you want it there before you consume it.


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