Last week we learned that it is recommended for a person to periodically check the position of his tefillin – particularly the ‘shel rosh’ – because it tends to shift downward or to the sides, which are “out of bounds” in terms of the fulfillment of the mitzvah.
In this siman, we learn of another reason to reach “over and up” to touch the tefillin from time to time: we are commanded not to remove our thoughts from the tefillin as long as we are wearing them (Heb: ‘hesech hada’as’ - lit. removal of thought). (Note: The Mishnah Berura writes that it is not necessary to touch them while you are busy davening, but during the “down” time it is appropriate.) Now before you reach out to touch your tefillin, there is a very important point of “protocol”: Do you remember the principle ‘ein ma’avirin al ha-mitzvos’ (i.e. do not pass over a mitzvah)? We learned about it with regard to the removal of the tefillin from the bag in the order in which they are donned, so as not to pick up the ‘shel rosh’ first and be forced to “pass it over” by placing it down to pick up the ‘shel yad’. Well, would you believe that if one reaches out to touch the ‘shel rosh’ before touching the ‘shel yad’, he is also passing over a mitzvah, because his hand was closer to the ‘shel yad’ when he started to lift it up?!
There is also an order to removing the tefillin when it’s time to put them away. The order is derived from a subtle innuendo in the verse to the effect that the ‘shel rosh’ should never be on without the ‘shel yad’. (Note: The innuendo is the fact that the verse says “they shall be ‘totafos’ between your eyes”. The Talmud infers from this that when they are between your eyes, there should be “they” – i.e. both tefillin on.) Thus, the ‘shel rosh’ should be removed first. Practically, this means that the procedure for removal is exactly the reverse of the procedure of donning: first the wraps around the hand are removed, then the ‘shel rosh’, and then the ‘shel yad’.
A few more points about the removal of the tefillin:
- The ‘shel rosh’ should be removed with the weak hand, which expresses “reluctance” to stop the mitzvah. - The ‘shel rosh’ should be wrapped up and placed into the bag before the ‘shel yad’ is even removed. (Ed: I think the reason is so that the ‘shel rosh’ does not sit on the table in an un-orderly manner, which would not be respectful for the mitzvah object.)
- Remember to place the ‘shel rosh’ into the bag in such a way that the ‘shel yad’ will be either closer to the opening (if the bag is long and narrow), or on the side closest to your stronger hand, with which you will remove it the next time you wear them. In this way, you will not have to pass over the ‘shel rosh’ when you reach in to take out the ‘shel yad’.