Putting on Tefillin on Chol HaMoed

I recently heard some interesting insights from Rabbi Eli Kerzner on putting Tefillin on Chol HaMoed, delivered at Toronto’s Shomrai Shabbos Chevrah Mishnayos shul earlier today, the second day of Pesach, between Mincha and Maariv.

Al Pi Halacha, there are authorities that have said that it’s mandatory to put on Tefillin on Chol HaMoed. Both the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi support this, and Rav Yehuda was of the opinion that one should put on Tefillin on Shabbos and Yom Tov, let alone Chol HaMoed.

It’s interesting to note a story about R’ Yonasan Eibeschutz, found in a Sefer about him, “Bais Yehonasan.” An Ehrliche person once went into R’ Eibeschutz’s room and for some odd reason decided to check the Rav’s Tefillin. He opened the boxes, and lo and behold, the batim were devoid of the parchment inside – empty! This apparently implied that R’ Eibeschutz never wore Tefillin before in his life, and as it is, many scary things have been written about one whose never worn Tefillin before.

Needless the say, this person took the Rav to court. This person was willing to swear on the Torah that he saw that R’ Eibeschutz’s Tefillin had no parchment. R’ Eibeschutz was shocked that such an Ehrliche person testified against him! He asked this person when he checked the Rav’s Tefillin boxes. The person answered, on Chol HaMoed.

R’ Eibeschutz calmed down, and his blood pressure normalized. He then explained that his Minhag was not to wear Tefillin on Chol HaMoed. Since, however, he was the Rav of a community that did wear Tefillin on Chol HaMoed, R’ Eibeschutz’s practice was to take out the pieces of parchment and wear the straps “for show,” as to not invoke Me’Aras ‘Ayin.

(Personally, I’m curious about the circumstances this came about, since opening and closing Tefillin batim are no easy task. They’re tied up with Cow sinews and practically sealed shut, so I wonder how both the Rav and this Ehrilche Yid both did this in private.

As well, many Misnagdim have put on Tefillin until today, and R’ Eibeschutz was a well-known Misnaged. But, we can’t ask a Kashe on a Maaseh, can we now?)

So, when did the Minhag come about to NOT place Tefillin on Shabbos, Yom Tov, and Chol HaMoed? According to the Tur, the Minhag came about from the Bnei Sefarad. Years ago, they came across something that R’ Shimon bar Yochai (the author of the Zohar) wrote, which scared them off from further putting on Tefillin on those days. It states in the Zohar of Shir HaShirim “The smell of [honey] is good (Tov).” This is in page 73 (or 93 in the “new” edition). Tov then was explained to refer to Yom Tov, which then lead to Shabbos and Yom Tov, etc. On a tangent of a tangent, the Zohar wrote about Hashem Wearing Tefillin.

Apparently, when Hashem puts on His Tefillin, His Tefillin directly brings power to the fourth World, the Olam Ha’Atzilah. When we put on Tefillin, our Tefillin draws power from the third world, the Olam HaYetzirah (the World of Creation), a lower one.

On Shabbos and Yom Tov, He dons the Tefillin Shel Rosh, while on Chol HaMoed Yom Tov, He dons the Tefillin Shel Yad, which is a reflection of the Tefillin Shel Rosh in a manner similar to how the moon reflects the sun. Similarly, Chol HaMoed is a reflection of Shabbos and Yom Tov. He will wear the Shel Rosh or Shel Yad, but not both at the same time. Our own Tefillin in turn acts as copies of the Tefillin that Hashem “Wears,” and helps us enjoy, to an extent, the Hashpa’a of those worlds.

On regular days, Hashem doesn’t “Wear” His Tefillin, and therefore we need to wear them. But when He “Wears” Tefillin on certain days, His influence is more than adequate, and if anything, our wearing Tefillin on those days may be sacreligious in actuality.

This is likened to a king who has a loyal servant. The king trusts the servant that he lets the servant design a copy of the king’s seal in order to “get around.” It’s not the actual seal, but it’s as close to the real thing as one can get. The king later on decides to give the actual king’s seal to the servant to use, the real McCoy. If the servant then was to use his copy rather than the king’s seal, then it would be an insult to the king, liable of death.

So is it with Hashem, the King, and us, His servants. On certain days He wears His Tefillin and this influence bestows His Tefillin on us. Should we still use our copies instead, who knows how badly we would be insulting Him!

(After the speech, I asked the person next to me to repeat certain terminologies, like the names of the third and fourth worlds that Rabbi Kerzner said earlier. He told me the names, but then scoffed, where in the Taryag Mitzvos does it say to learn Kabbalah?

Since we were all leaving Shul, I couldn’t answer him on one foot, but I believe that since the Torah was used to create the world, what with different Tzaros on the letter spacings, Kabbalah, and especially the Zohar, is an essential part of Torah, even though much of it has to do with worlds and Sefirot that don’t directly pertain to us. Limud HaTorah LiShmah is Limud HaTorah LiShmah nonetheless.

As well, the Zohar is Torah. The Torah was, after all designed as a blueprint to create this world. The Zohar merely expounds on the much deeper elements of the Torah, but Chas V’Shalom it should act as an alternastive in any way!)

Rabbi Kerzner can be reached at emkerzner@gmail.com.

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  • Joseph Kolakowski

    The Vilna Gaon taught not to wear tefillin on Chol HaMoed.

    The Divrei Chaim (chassidish) of Sanz taught that single boys should
    wear tefillin on Chol HaMoed, but married men should not (this is
    practiced in Bobov and by many Satmar chassidim, however they wear the
    tefillin privately at home).

    Also, as far as studying Kabbalah, the Vilna Gaon taught that one who
    does not study Kabbalah does not fulfill the mitzvah of learning Torah
    at all.

  • Chananel Gez

    My father is a sofer stam (among other things) and he opens and closes tefillin in a very short time. About 20 minutes he checks tefillin. And all you need is a sharp blade to cut the sinius and then a needle to sow it back afterwards. No biggie.

  • http://www.stam.net Rabbi Y. Askotzky

    True, to open and close tefillin, (without the need to remove the parshios) particularly with the type of batim they had back then, could have been done quite quickly -. Whether that person was permitted to do so on chol hamoed is another issue. To actually open, remove, check, reinsert and close tefillin in 20 minutes however, is a bit exagerated. To properly *check* tefillin, from opening through closing would take more like a minimum of 40 minutes.

  • Yitzhack Rubin

    Please add me to your mailing list
    Yitzhack Rubin, Jerusalem

  • Anonymous

    Just thought to add, with Tefillin on Shabbos, the verse is “UkSharam Le’Os (a sign) Al Yadecha, and Shabbos is a sufficient enough “Os.” Since Yom Tov is similar to Shabbos in every way except for three things, this explains Yom Tov. Chol HaMoed though requires a lengthier explanation.

  • The Rebbetzin’s Husband

    Worth noting: Rav Chaim Vital (Shaar haMitzvos 1a) and Rav Moshe Cordovero (Or haNeerav 4:1) both ruled that one must learn kabbalah as part of fulfilling the mitzvah of learning Torah.