Tanak Foundations-Concepts in Deuteronomy-Part 6

Deut 5.1-21 repeats the same words that the voice spoke on the mountain. The foundation of the covenant is the Ten Commandments and they are repeated in verses 6-21. Are these commandments written on our hearts (Jer 31.33)? We don’t need rabbinical fences around the commandments. If we keep coveting under control it is a built-in fence. God knew our psychology. He spoke the Ten Commandments and he added no more (v 22). If fences were required God would have put them in, but he didn’t and this verse says it. Moses showed them the Torah and the people said, “We will hear it and do it (5.27).” Moses tries to capsulize the essence of the Torah in Deut 6.1-25. He sums it up like Yeshua did in Matt 22.26-30.

Deut 6.4-9 contains the most famous set of verses in the Torah. It is called the “Shema” meaning to “hear” and it is again based on the first word of the passage. Hearing in the Scriptures also implies “obeying” and we are responsible for the commandments. We need to “do them” by “binding them as a sign upon your hand (action)” and “remember them” by being “frontlets on your forehead” (mind). By saying that we should “write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates” is saying that they should guide our body (house) and our senses (gates) and write them on the tablet of our hearts. Let’s examine this further.

These verses are metaphors and they are used all over the Scriptures. The Karaite Korner has an excellent article on this idea of the Shema and the frontlets (tefillin/phylacteries) that you will see wrapped around the forehead and the left arm of Rabbinical observant Jews. We would like to share this article here because it makes some very important points about Deut 6.6-9, and it discusses the concept of “rabbinical fences” and “adding to” the Word of God. The article begins by saying, “The Biblical commandment which the Rabbis interpret to refer to tefillin is taken by the Karaites as a metaphor which emphasizes the importance of remembering and cherishing the Torah.”

The article then goes on to give the Karaite interpretation of Deut 6.4-9, which we believe has a lot of merit for believers in Yeshua. The article continues, “Popular legend has it that the Karaites, and the Sadducees before them, interpreted the words, ‘and they shall be for totafot between your eyes’ literally and as a result wore Tefillin (phylacteries) right above their noses. One version of the story claims the Sadducees were wiped out because of this practice. The legend goes that they kept bumping into walls and since their tefillin were between their eyes (instead of on their foreheads) their noses were sent shattering into their brains, killing them instantly. The Karaites and other deniers of the Oral Law are portrayed as bumbling idiots who through their foolish practices wiped themselves out. The message of the story is that it is impossible to live (literally) as a Karaite and therefore we need the Oral Law to save us from this savage extinction.”

“The problem with this myth is that it is simply untrue. It assumes that the Karaites and Sadducess interpret the verse “and they shall be for totafot between your eyes’ as referring to Rabbinic Phylacteries. However, in reality, the Karaites and Sadducess never wore tefillin at all, let alone between their eyes because this is simply not what the verse is talking about. One Rabbinite polemicist asked, ‘How can you Karaites know how to make tefillin without all the specifications laid down in the Oral Law?’ The answer is we can not because the Oral Law made up the whole thing.”

“The phrase which allegedly commands the donning of tefillin appears four times in the Torah (Exo 13.9, 13.16; Deut 6.8, 11.18). It should be noted that the difficult word ‘totafot’ which the Rabbis arbitrarily interpret to mean ‘tefillin’ actually means ‘remembrance.’ This is clear from Exo 13.9 (one of the four ‘tefillin’ passages) which substitutes the word ‘totafot’ with the equivalent but more familiar ‘zicharon’ (remembrance). Upon closer examination it becomes clear that this phrase is a figure of speech and not a command at all. The brilliant Rabbanite commentator Rashbam (Rashi’s grandson) was wise enough to realize the true meaning of this expression. Commenting on this verse, ‘And it shall be for a sign upon your hand and remembrance (zicharon) between your eyes’ he writes: ‘For a sign upon your hand according to its plain meaning (Omek Peshato), it shall be remembered always as if it had been written upon hand, similar to ‘he put me as a seal upon your heart (Ecc 8.6)’ and ‘Between your eyes’ like jewelry or gold chain which people put on the forehead for decoration (Rashbam on Exo 13.9).”

Rashi’s grandson rightfully interprets the ‘tefillin passage’ as a metaphor which demands that we remember the Torah always and treasure it like a piece of jewelry. Rashbam and the Karaites realize that not everything in the Torah is to be taken literally as a command. The classic example of this is ‘And you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart’ (Deut 10.16). Obviously God is not commanding mass suicide but is rather commanding us to figuratively circumcise the foreskin of our hearts, i.e. remove our impurity and stubbornness and commit to his covenant with our hearts. While this metaphor was easy to understand it is less obvious what kind of metaphor lays behind ‘and it shall be a sign upon your hand and remembrance between your eyes.’ The question is clarified by several passages elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible (Prov 1.8-9, 3.3, 6.20-21).”

“In light of these verses the real meaning of the ‘tefillin’ passage becomes clear. The Torah is to be like a fine bracelet or necklace which we are to wear proudly. In other words, the Torah is supposed to be precious to us and be remembered always. It is worth noting that the four places in the Torah which use this expression, two of them are telling us to remember the Torah (Deut 6.8, 11.18) while the other two are commanding us to remember the Exodus from Egypt (Exo 13.9, 13.16). It should be noted that the Karaites also interpret the verse ‘And you shall write them on the doorposts of your houses and your gates (Deut 6.9, 11.20) to be a metaphor to ‘write them upon the tablet of your heart’ (Prov 3.3) and not referring to the Rabbanite Mezuzah.” We believe that this is the correct interpretation of these verses, and this interpretation can also be applied to Rev 13.11-18, but that is for another time. But you can go to our study on the book of Revelation on this website for more information.

We will pick up here in Part 7.

Posted in All Teachings, Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Prophecy/Eschatology, The Feasts of the Lord, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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