Why is it that when you say Shema without wearing tefillin, it is as if you are giving eidus sheker, false testimony? Even though you’re not wearing tefillin, you are still saying Shema, aren’t you?
Your question is based upon the Gemara in Maseches Brachos (14b), which quotes the words of Ulla that whoever says Shema without tefillin is viewed as saying eidus sheker b’atzmo, false testimony about himself. Rashi explains that “b’atzmo” is a more proper and refined way of referring to Hashem. We are being told that without tefillin, one is actually saying false testimony against Hashem. This means that the person doesn’t truly stand behind the words he is saying. Hence your question: The person might be sincere, but he just isn’t accomplishing the additional mitzvah of tefillin.
The Sefas Emes in Parshas Bo explains the role that tefillin plays. Through his words, we can understand the reason why a person without tefillin is actually testifying eidus sheker b’atzmo. In dealing with your point, the Sefas Emes discusses another issue that can help us understand the kedusha of tefillin.
Why are tefillin not worn on Shabbos? Tefillin are tied to a person, and it is as if the tefillin and the person become one. Why would this not necessarily be something appropriate for Shabbos?
The Sefas Emes explains that it’s not that it isn’t appropriate for Shabbos. Rather, the tools of physical mitzvos aren’t required to establish that state of kedusha, because the day of Shabbos is able to do that on its own.
The mitzvah of tefillin is considered an ois, a sign, through which the inner light of kedusha of a person’s neshamah is able to be revealed. In our terms, one’s neshamah is cloaked within his guf, and in a sense, a war exists between the two as to which part is considered the dominant one. When the neshamah rules and the person does what the logic of his mind dictates, the body accepts it and a state of shleimus is present. The word shleimus itself comes from the word shalom, peace, for only when the guf recognizes its true place to be subordinate to the soul can there be peace and harmony between body and neshamah. Hashem commanded that we don tefillin, so that through the words that are written in its parshiyos that are being tied as one with our body, the guf will then negate itself and allow the dominance of the neshamah to exist. The world is a physical place, and thus something must be done – the mitzvah of tefillin enables the spiritual soul to dominate within a total physical system. Thus, we must wear tefillin during the week, but not on the day of Shabbos.
The day of Shabbos is a time when, by definition, the physical world is not in the role of being dominant. The thirty-nine melachos represent man’s physical input into the mundane world, and with no true sense of melacha present on Shabbos, the day is considered removed from being within the physical world. It serves as the mei’ein of Olam Haba, a glimmer of the totally spiritual realm of the World to Come. On Shabbos, we are bestowed with a neshamah yeseirah, an added dimension of soul, and through it, the neshamah is enabled to become dominant. The Sefas Emes explains that it is therefore not necessary to wear tefillin on Shabbos.
On Shabbos, the neshamah is foremost, and thus the ois of Shabbos itself is at play. Wearing tefillin on Shabbos would be considered a zilzul, a degradation, of the kedusha of Shabbos. On the day that represents Olam Haba, the neshamah is being revealed naturally. It is this point that explains why a person who says Shema without tefillin is a bearer of false testimony.
It isn’t just a nice thing that we wear tefillin and say Shema. Rather, without the role tefillin plays in revealing one’s neshamah and its spiritual capacity, the words of Shema can’t be absorbed by a person. In Shema, we validate certain truths about Hashem’s relationship with His briah. Truly believing such realities, which are spiritual functions, is totally impossible without the dominance of one’s neshamah, which can only occur on a weekday through the ois of tefillin. Without tefillin to in a sense empower the neshamah, the sacred words of Shema are empty and hollow, for they lack the spiritual prowess that is present but has to be revealed. Thus, when one says Shema without tefillin, the words he is saying are, to an extent, insincere, and thus the statements of truth that the person is saying lack the commitment to pure emes because of the dominance of his body over his spiritual soul.
Therefore, we must wear tefillin when we recite Shema, for without the tefillin, we cannot be expressing true feelings and the recognition of the words that we are saying.
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