Specific Laws of Tefillin part IIMBY 25:5-10 Question: What ‘kavana’ (thoughts or intentions) should one have when donning the tefillin?
Answer: There are two different ‘kavanos’ one should have - one general and the other specific.
The general: the fulfillment of a Torah mitzvah requires that one have the basic intention to fulfill the Divine Mitzvah. Thus, for example, if one tries on a pair of tefillin solely to see if it fits, he has not fulfilled the mitzvah. The specific: Only a few mitzvos come with an additional specific ‘kavana’ that is part-and-parcel of the mitzvah itself. (Ed: An example we just experienced was the mitzvah of dwelling in the Sukkah, during which the Torah commands us to think about how Hashem housed us in Sukkos when He brought us out of Mitzraim.) One of the few is tefillin!
When wearing the tefillin, one should think about ‘Yetzias Mitzraim’ (the Exodus from Egypt), which is mentioned in a few of the paragraphs written inside the tefillin. One should also focus on the fact that the tefillin are worn on the head and on the arm near the heart. Putting all this together, the following cohesive train of thought emerges: by taking the Jewish People out of Mitzraim, Hashem demonstrated His complete Mastery over the world. We, in response, dedicate ourselves – both in spiritual mind (head) and in earthly desires and thoughts (heart) - to His service. (Note: Were one to have the general intent but not the specific one, he would nonetheless fulfill the mitzvah.)