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prayer pings #29 Daydream believer

Rashbam, the grandson of Rashi, wrote some pretty surprising stuff. For example, commenting on the words (Shmot 13:9), "and it shall be for a sign upon your hand and a remembrance between your eyes" - which Rashi insists refer to tefillin - Rashbam writes,

"According to the deep pshat, this means that [the Torah] should be something you always remember, as if it were written on your hand. And it shall be as a golden diadem, the sort that is worn upon the forehead".

Did Rashbam then not wear actual, physical tefillin, just metaphorical ones? Well, no. In various places in his commentary Rashbam alludes to his basic thesis that the Torah speaks on numerous levels at once. In this verse, on the "deep pshat" level, the Torah is revealing the ultimate motivation and purpose of the mitzva of tefillin, namely to inspire us to keep the words of the Torah constantly in our minds, and to lead us to valuing them the way we would a jewel that adorns our head.

I call our attention to Rashbam's understanding, because it helps us to appreciate how the first paragraph of Shma holds together as a thematically coherent unit. At first glance, this first paragraph breaks into three distinct pieces, the command to love God, the command to place "these words" ( הדברים האלה) upon on our hearts and to teach and speak of them, and finally the ritual commands of tefillin and mezuzah. But if we take Rashbam's "deep pshat", we realize that tefillin and mezuzah are also really just ways of placing "these words upon our hearts", of impressing them upon our souls.

And once we realize that the latter two parts of the paragraph are actually one, we further recognize that in fact all three parts are one. Yes, as the paragraph opens, a Jew is to love God, but how? God, after all, is invisible and non-corporeal. The answer is that we love God through filling and surrounding ourselves with God's words, such that they become our ever-present, most-cherished companions.

We all recognize and admire the people who embody Shma's first paragraph. We know them. The right words, the righteous words, seem to invariably emerge from their mouths, their hands and hearts and the doorways to their homes are always open in just the right ways. They teach "the words" simply through the way they are, through the way they be. They are the people who radiate the first paragraph of Shma. We recognize and admire them. And twice a day - when we retire and when we arise - we dream about what our own version of that looks like.


~Rav Yosef

Wed, February 20 2019 15 Adar I 5779