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Parsha Halacha / Parshat Tetzaveh  Parshat Zachor
About the Golden Tzitz and the Kissing of the Tefillin
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The Torah portion of Tetzavah describes the garments of the kohanim and of the Kohen Gadol (high priest) in great detail. One of these was the golden tzitz or frontlet, which the Kohen Gadol wore on his forehead, as the verse says, “And you shall make a frontlet of pure gold, and you shall engrave upon it like the engraving of a seal: ‘קודש לה’ – Holy to the L-rd’… It shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear the iniquity of the holy things that the children of Israel sanctify, for all their holy gifts. It shall be upon his forehead constantly to make them favorable before the L-rd.”[1]
The Holiest of the Garments
Rabbeinu Bachayeh explains that the tzitz is the only one of the eight garments of the Kohen Gadol that was not actually a garment but was an ornament. He explains that the other seven garments represent the seven heavens (and thus the seven Sefirot – Divine attributes) while the tzitz represents the highest level. (This seems to be referring to the Keter Elyon – the supernal crown.) This is the level of G-d’s judgment from which mercy is bestowed upon the Jewish people.
What’s in the Name?
The Rashbam says that the word tzitz means “to see” as in the verse, “מֵצִיץ מִן הַחֲרַכִּים – peering from the lattices.”[2] This alludes to the fact that the tzitz was placed on the forehead, where all could see it.
Rabbeinu Bachayeh explains that the tzitz represents the level of G-d “looking down” at the Jewish people (see above).
The word tzitz is also used to mean the blossoming of fruit (see Numbers 17:23). This alludes to the receiving of the most exalted blessings from G-d which produce positive “fruits.”
Two Atonements
The verse says that the tzitz “shall bear the iniquity of the holy things that the children of Israel sanctify, for all their holy gifts.” As Rashi explains, this is referring to cases where the blood or fats of the sacrifices had (mistakenly) become tamei (ritually impure) before being placed on the Altar. Although this should not be done in the first place, if it did (accidentally) happen, the tzitz would atone for that sin, and the sacrifices were considered valid. In addition, since the tzitz is placed on the forehead, it atones for (sins committed with) chutzpah/audacity (azut panim ). (The forehead alludes to a lack of shame as in the verse “and you had a harlot’s forehead; you refused to be ashamed.”[3])
One or Two Lines?
The Talmud says[4] “The tzitz was made like a kind of smooth plate of gold, and its width was two fingerbreadths, and it encircled the forehead from ear to ear. On it was written in two lines: Yud keih (i.e., the Tetragrammaton) above and kodesh lamed, (קודש ל – sacred to,) below. (In deference to the name of G-d, it was written on the top line and the words “Sacred to” on the line below.)
Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Yossi, said, “I saw it in the Caesar’s treasury (this was presumably the tzitz that the Romans captured when they destroyed the Bait HaMikdash) in the city of Rome and ‘Sacred to G-d’ was written on one line.”
The image on the right below is the opinion of the sages (the first opinion above) as explained by Tosfot while the image on the left is the sages’ opinion according to Rashi.
Arguing with an Incontrovertible Proof
It is difficult to understand why the Sages would continue to maintain their opinion that the tzitz was written on two lines in light of the eyewitness testimony of Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Yossi, who was certainly a reliable person.
The Rambam rules, [5] based on the first (and majority opinion) mentioned above, that the words were written in two lines. But, he adds, “If [the words] were written on one line it was valid. There were times when they were written on one line.” Thus, according to the Rambam, a tzitz written on one line is valid, although not preferred. This might explain how a tzitz with one line was found in Rome, since such a tzitz could have been used in the Bait HaMikdash if there was none other available.
Despite this, it is difficult to understand the position of the Sages. If an optimal tzitz was written on two lines, why would the tzitz that was used prior to the destruction (which is presumably the one captured by the Romans) have been written in a substandard way?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained[6] that in Temple times it was not uncommon for people to make replicas of holy artifacts. These replicas were not necessarily precise in all of their details. Since the sages had an oral tradition that the words on the tzitz were written in two lines, they didn’t revise their position based on Rabbi Eliezer’s testimony as the tzitz he saw may have been a replica that was never actually used.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and the Demon
Elsewhere, the Talmud[7] tells the story of how Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Yossi, got to see the tzitz in Rome.
It once happened that the Roman government decreed that the Jews not be allowed to keep Shabbat, circumcise their sons, or observe the laws of Family Purity (i.e., Mikvah). Rabbi Reuven ben Istruvli went and took a Roman-style haircut (shaving the hair in the front and sides and leaving a ponytail in the middle[8]). He came to the Roman senate, pretending to be a Roman, and presented the following argument: “If a person has an enemy, would he want him to be rich or poor?” They said, “Poor.” He said, “If that’s the case, you should permit them to keep Shabbat.” (The Midrash adds that he said, the Jews save up all their money during the week and spend it all on their Shabbat expenses. If you forbid them to keep Shabbat they will become rich and this will enable them to rebel against you.) So they retracted the decree forbidding the keeping of Shabbat.
His next argument was “If a person has an enemy would he want him to be strong or weak?” “Weak,” they said. “So,” he argued, “if you allow the Jews to circumcise their son, this will weaken them, whereas if you forbid this, they will become stronger.” (The Midrash adds that he said they will be able to therefore mount a successful rebellion.) So they retracted the decree prohibiting circumcision as well.
Finally, he argued, “If you have an enemy, would you want him to increase or decrease in numbers?” “Decrease,” they replied. “If so,” he said, “you should allow them to remain apart from their wives during the time of Niddah as this will decrease their chances of having children.” They went ahead and retracted the decree against the observance of Family Purity.
Then they found out he was Jewish, and they reenacted all the decrees.
So the sages of Israel sent a delegation to lobby the Roman government that they repeal these terrible decrees. They chose the great sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and the much younger Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Yossi.
While they were traveling, a demon named Ben Talmiyon appeared to them and offered to assist them. At first Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was upset that he did not merit to have an angel assist him, but in the end he accepted the demon’s offer. The demon said that he would enter the daughter of the Caesar, possess her, and demand to see Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. He instructed Rabbi Shimon to whisper into the ear of the princess that he should leave her and that when he would do so, he would break all of the glass in the house.
So the demon went ahead to Rome and possessed the princess. She began demanding to see Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. At first, the Caesar thought he would have to bring Rabbi Shimon from Israel, but he then heard that Rabbi Shimon was arriving by ship to Rome. He asked Rabbi Shimon to heal his daughter to which Rabbi Shimon agreed, adding that all the glass in the house would break.
Indeed, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai whispered into the ear of the princess, “Leave, Ben Talmiyon,” And the demon departed, breaking all of the glass as he had said he would.
The Caesar was so overjoyed that he allowed Rabbi Shimon (and Rabbi Eliezer) to enter his royal treasury and take whatever he chose. Rabbi Shimon found the decree which forbade the above-mentioned mitzvot and ripped it up. (This effectively abolished the decree.) It was while Rabbi Eliezer was in the Roman treasury that he saw the tzitz.
Learning Tefillin from the Tzitz
The Talmud says[9] that “A person is obligated to touch his Tefillin at all times that he is donning them. This is derived from a kal vechomer (a fortiori argument) from the tzitz. If regarding the tzitz, which has only one mention of G-d’s name, the Torah said: ‘And it should always be upon his forehead,’ (the High Priest must always be aware that the tzitz is placed on his head and that he should not be distracted from it), the Tefillin, which have numerous mentions of G-d’s name, all the more so should one always be aware of them.”
Why Must One Keep His Mind on his Tefillin?
The commentaries give several reasons as to why one should touch and thus remember his Tefillin at all times.
  • This will ensure that he not pass gas while wearing them.[10]
  • So that one will make sure they not fall off, land on the ground and, G-d forbid, be stepped on.[11]
  • To ensure that one not behave in a light-headed or disrespectful manner while wearing the Tefillin[12] or speak idle chatter or think sinful thoughts.[13]
  • By touching our Tefillin, we (should try to) remember the message of the Tefillin – that we should subdue our hearts and minds to Hashem.[14]
Another reason to touch the Tefillin is to make sure they are still located in the correct position on the arm and head.[15]
It is not necessary to touch the Tefillin while praying or studying Torah as at such times one is fully cognizant of G-d and need not be reminded of the Tefillin per se. Despite this, it is best to touch them during prayer in order to be fully conscious of them.[16] During the Amidah it is not necessary to do this.[17]
Specifically, it is customary to touch (and kiss) the Tefillin at certain points in the prayers:
1)      When saying the blessings of ozer Yisrael BiGevurah and Oter Yisrael BeTifarah (for those who say the morning blessings while wearing Tefillin) as these brachot allude to the Tefillin.[18]
2)      When saying Pote’ach et Yadecha (open Your Hands etc.) in Ashrei. This alludes to the fact that purpose of having a plentiful parnassah is to be able to fulfill the mitzvot.[19]
3)      When saying Yotzer Ohr Uvorei Choshech in the first blessing before the Shema. This alludes to the fact that the purpose of both the day and the night is to study Torah.[20]
4)      When mentioning the Tefillin in the first and second paragraphs of the Shema. [21]
5)      When mentioning the Tefillin in the paragraphs of Kadesh and VeHaya Ki Yevi’acha. (Some recite these paragraphs while wearing Rashi Tefillin while some do so while wearing Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin.)
6)      Some also touch and kiss the Tefillin when saying Yismechu Hashamayim vetagel ha’aretz[22] in Hodu and Yehi Chevod and Lema’an lo niga larik velo neled labehala[23] in Uvah LeTziyon.
One should touch the hand Tefillin before the head Tefillin as they are closer to one’s (other) hand and one should not delay the performance of a mitzvah.[24]
Some have the custom to touch the Tefillin with their Talit or Tefillin strap and kiss those instead of kissing their fingers.[25]
May we soon merit to see the Koshen Gadol, in all his glory, performing the service in the Third Bait HaMikdash!

[1] Exodus,. 28, 36-38
[2] Song of Songs 2:9
[3] Jeremiah 3:3
[4] Shabbat, 63b
[5] Hilchot Klei HaMikdash, 9:1
[6] Likutei Sichot, vol. 26, pages 200 – 203
[7] Me’ilah 17b and 18a. I am interspersing some of the comments made in the Midrash (end of Eicha Zutah) about this story.
[8] This involves two prohibitions – shaving the peyot and taking an idolatrous style of haircut. The sages permitted this out of necessity, so that he be able to annul the decrees. In addition, when the purpose of the haircut is not to identify as an idolater, it isn’t included in the prohibition.
[9] Shabbos 12a
[10] Tosfot Yeshanim on Yoma 8a D.H. Tefillin
[11] Sefer Yereim, 269
[12] Darkei Moshe, O.C. 252:9
[13] Bach on O.C. 44:4
[14] Kaf HaChaim, 61:66
[15] Mishnah Berurah, 28:1
[16] Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 28:2
[17] Piskei Teshuvot, 28:1 based on Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 1. But see Siddur HaRav which implies that it is best to even touch them during the Amidah.
[18] See ibid, note 63
[19] Piskei Teshuvot, 51, note 144 in the name of the Ta’amei HaMinhagim
[20] Piskei Teshuvot, 59, note 2. See there that some say to only touch the hand Tefillin at this point.
[21] Although we touch the Tefillin when we mention them and kiss the tzitzit when we mention them, it is not customary to kiss a mezuzah when we mention them during our prayers. Several reasons are given for this.
  • Tefillin and tziztzit are mitzvot on our body as opposed to Mezuzah which is on the home (Responsa of RashBash, 26).
  • We kiss the tzitzit to remember the mitzvot and the Tefillin for the reasons given above. These reasons do not apply to a Mezuzah (ibid).
  • The Tefillin and tzitzit are readily available during prayers as opposed to the Mezuzah which is on the doorpost (Bais Yosef, 24, D.H. Katav HaRav David).
[22] These words are the roshei teivot (acronym of G-d’s holy name).
[23] See Piskei Teshuvot 132:1, based on the Arizal that one should bear in mind that the Tefillin are a sign that G-d is the one and only and that He took us out of Egypt. This is a tikun for the sin of keri.
[24] Shulchan Aruch HaRav 28:2
[25] Ibid, 25:7 quoting Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Happy Purim

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