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The Tefillin Batim (boxes) part III
MBY 32:39 The next qualification of the ‘batim’ – both the ‘shel rosh’ and ‘shel yad’ – is ‘ribua’ (square-ness). What needs to be square? Look (or imagine) a ‘bayis’: It has a large cube sitting atop a square base, which is larger than the cube. Threaded through the top and bottom of the base are stitches, made of the natural sinew of an animal (nothing synthetic here!) Anyway, the following must be b’ribua’ (squared) – i.e. same measure for all four sides, and right angles:
1) The horizontal dimensions of the cube, i.e. its length and width, but not necessarily its height*
2) The dimensions of the base**
3) The stitching

*In fact, most tefillin are made in a cubed shape, with the height equal to the length and width. However, the halacha does not require this. About a decade ago, a sofer designed a new kind of ‘bayis shel yad’, whose horizontal dimensions were smaller than the norm, but whose height was extended considerably. His goal was to create a ‘bayis’ that would easily fit on the arm well within the boundaries (as we learned in siman 27), without having to make the parchment and script so small. This sofer was relying on the fact that the ‘ribua’ requirement applies only to the horizontal, not vertical, dimensions. **I’ll bet you are wondering: how can the base be square? On one side of the base is a passageway through which the ‘retzua’ (strap) passes. That passageway (Heb. ‘ma’avarta’) causes the base to be rectangular, not square! Look again! Do you see how there are notches carved out of the top and bottom of the base, bordering the ‘ma’avarta’? Do you know why they are there? Precisely to mark the ‘ma’avarta’ off as separate from the base! In this way, the base itself is a perfect square! (See, there is a reason for everything!)

One more thing: Often a person will knock his tefillin into the wall, and cause a slight dent, or even chip, in the corner of his ‘bayis’. Being somewhat aware of the ‘ribua’ requirement, he might think that his tefillin have become ‘pasul’ (invalidated), because one of its corners has lost some of its “sharpness”, rendering it un-square. We are here to say, “Relax!” - the ‘ribua’ requirement relates to the dimensions of the ‘bayis’, not to the sharpness of its corners. Unless the dent is significant, the tefillin are probably still fine. (Show them to a rav, if you’re concerned!)

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