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Kissing Tefillin and Tzitzit During Shema

Rabbi Dovid Bendory, 4 Tamuz, 5766
Wall Street Synagogue

Listen to the audio. (11:58)

Birshut HaRav: God willing, this morning we will finish Section 61 and begin a new topic next week.

I'm actually going to do the last section first, section 24. There are those who have the custom of reading the entire Shema out loud, and there are those who have the custom of reading it in a whisper. The Rama adds that everyone should read the first verse out loud, and this is the custom, says the Rama.

In other words, even those who whisper the rest of Shema, read the first verse out loud. Now, we saw up above that there are some challenges with whispering; such as you can't say "u'z'chartem" with a whisper. It would come out as "u's'chartem" and so if you're going to whisper your way through Shema, you do need to pay extra attention to certain aspects of proper enunciation and pronunciation.

Says the Mishna Brura in subsection 40: "With regards to the matter of whether you can fulfill your obligation to recite the Shema by way of someone else's reading, if you have the intention to fulfill your obligation by that person's reading; and that person has the intention to fulfill your obligation, the majority of the acharonim hold that one does one can fulfill one's obligation by having intention for someone else's reading; and that this is, in fact, preferable from just thinking about the Shema."

Why? Because thinking the Shema is not in any way like speech; whereas, when you listen to someone else saying the Shema we have a general rule that one who hears is like one who responds, and so by listening to someone else to recite the Shema, at the very least, you have some kind of similarity between speaking and hearing. Whereas, thinking the words alone — in other words, reading through the Shema with your eyes and not say anything — everyone agrees it is really not sufficient.

Again, there are two customs brought in the Mechaber: one is whispering; one is speaking out loud. So those who whisper can do so, but one should be careful with proper pronunciation.

Returning back to section 25, "When one reaches the words and says the words, 'bind them as a sign upon your hand,' one should touch the Tefillin shel Yad. And when one says the words, 'and they shall be as frontlets before your eyes,' one should touch the Tefillin shel Rosh; and when we say 'and you will see them' in the last paragraph, one should touch the tzitzit that are in front of him."

When we were learning about tzitzit, we learned that the preferred way to wear your tallis is to have two tzitzit in the front and two in the back. By definition, you'll have two to the right and two to the left; what this means is that you're surrounded on all sides by the tzitzit so the the Mechaber here says to touch the two tzitzit that are in front when you say the words "and you shall see them."

The Rama refers us back to hilchos Tzitzit that we're going to learn together momentarily, but first the Mishna Brura subsection 39. The Mishna Brura pays attention to the fact that the Mechaber only pointed out the mention of Tefillin in the first paragraph but he didn't remind us of the mention of Tefillin in the second section of Shema. So the Mishna Brura brings that in. Says the Mishna Brura: "Similarly in the second section of Shema, when one reaches the mention of Tefillin, one should touch their Tefillin there, as well." He brings this from the Vilna Gaon.

Now, going back to the laws of tzitzit in section 24, and if I remember correctly, we did cover this when we learned hilchos tzitzit, though, of course, it's relevant here as well; so it will be good for us review it.

I'll start with Simon 24, section 2. It is a mitzvah to hold the tzitzit in your left hand against your heart at the time of the recitation of the Shema. And there's a hint of this matter in the words "let these matters be upon your heart." And, says Mechaber, this is a hint to holding the tzitzit near your heart while you recite the Shema. The Mishna Brura says in subsection 4, that according to the Arizal you should hold the tzitzit between your little your ring finger and your little finger of your left hand; and when you get to the third paragraph of Shema you should hold them in your right hand as well, in other words, now they are in both hands, and you should look at them. They remain in your hand until the words "true and pleasant forever"; again, this is all according to the Arizal. These words are in the prayer that comes after the Shema.

Fortunately, the ArtScroll has marked this all out clearly for us; and in ArtScroll it says right there, after those words, to kiss the tzitzit and release them, as a reminder; and as the Mishna Brura said, "And then, at that point, one kisses the tzitzit and sends them away from his hand."

The Mechaber in section 4 in the same Simon writes: "There is a custom to look at the tzitzit when they arrive at the words, 'and you shall see them.'" So we actually pick them up before our eyes to see them; and then he says, to put them before one's eyes, "and this is a beautiful custom," he says, and it all is about about expressing our love for Hashem and for the mitzvot that Hashem has given us. Adds the Rama, "Some have the custom to kiss the tzitzit at the time that we look at them; and all of this is an expression of of our love for the mitzvot."

I will add that many of us have the custom of kissing the tzitzit at each mention of the word "tzitzit" in the Shema. Also with regard to touching the Tefillin, we have the custom of kissing our hand after touching the Tefillin. Again, that wasn't brought here in the sources we were looking at.

With regard to all of this holding the tzitzit and kissing them and, etc., how does help us? What is this about?

I'll start with Mishna Brura subsection 6: "Because the verse says with regard to tzitzit that 'you shall see them and remember.' Seeing the tzitzit will bring us to remembering the mitzvot, and remembering the mitzvot will bring us to keeping the mizvot." A beautiful idea. It actually comes from a very nice Gamara in Menachot 43.

Finally, Mishna Brura subsection 7, with regard to passing the tzitzit before our eyes; and I don't personally have this custom; but, often I seem to see this custom among old Sephardic men, they touch the tzitzit to their eyes. The Mishna Brura explains that early authorities bring that anyone who brings his tzitzit before his eyes while reading the words regarding seeing the tzitzit is insured that he will not come to blindness.

And what about a person who is blind? A person who is blind should hold the tzitzit in his hand while he's studying the Shema, even though it says, "And you shall see them," which, of course, a blind person is not able to do. Why should he still hold them? The blind person does this because he, too, benefits from sight. That is, he benefits from the sight that others are able to see and help him with whatever he might need help with; but that a blind person should not actually pass them before his eyes, since he cannot see them.