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    God’s tefillin – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Can you explain the rabbinic idea that God has tallit and tefillin and acts as a chazan?

    A. They are beautiful metaphors but not to be taken literally. After all, since God has no physical form, how can He put on tallit and tefillin?

    The reference to God’s tallit comes from a Talmudic passage attributed to Rabbi Yochanan where he depicts God wearing a tallit like a chazan and showing Moses the order of the prayers (Rosh HaShanah 17b). He says that whenever Israel sin, they should pray with similar fervour, reciting the 13 Divine Attributes (Ex. 34:6-7).

    The notion of God wearing tefillin (Ber. 6a) is probably intended as an implied rebuke to people in the time of the Talmud who were lax about the mitzvah of tefillin. The argument was, if God Himself wears tefillin, surely you can too!

    Just as human tefillin contain the Shema, which affirms the uniqueness of the Almighty, so His tefillin acclaim the uniqueness of Israel by means of the verse, “Who is like Your people Israel, a unique nation on the earth?” (I Chron. 17:21).

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