Can a Person Fulfill all the Torah?

Be careful, it’s a trick question.

Are you a farmer? No? Then you are not required to fulfill the commandments relevant to farmers. If you don’t grow food, then you can’t give tithes from the produce of the land, and you are not likely to create hybrids of two fruit-bearing plants. (Although that last one can also apply to scientists in a laboratory or greenhouse.)

If you don’t work on a farm, then you can’t refrain from working on the land during the Sabbatical year. If you don’t work in the animal husbandry trade, you are not likely to cross-breed animals, so the Torah’s Commandments about these matters do not apply to you. You have certainly not transgressed the Torah by not being a farmer, since the Torah does not command us to be farmers.

Are you a Cohen (a member of the Priestly family of the Tribe of Levi)? No? Then a great many other Commandments do not apply to you. True, you can’t fulfill them, but that’s not a sin. You can’t fulfill those, because you are not allowed to!

Are you a judge? No? Then you can’t fulfill another whole set of Commandments that pertain to judges in Jewish Courts. You can’t be required to judge cases of monetary fines, or capital cases, or thieves, or arbiotrate between two litigants in a law suit, or preside over any sort of court case, because you are not a judge.You can’t take a bribe from a litigant, nor transgress any of the Laws concerning judges (of which, to my count, there are about nineteen that can apply today, and even more when there is a Holy Temple in Jerusalem). So you can’t fulfill those Laws, nor are you expected to. It does not apply to you at all. But that is not a sin; you simply cannot fulfill them.

There are nevertheless a few ways in which you can share in the fulfillment of those Commandments that you cannot fulfill. For one thing, whenever we perform a Commandment, we are supposed to dedicate its fulfilment to everyone in Klal Yisrael (The Union of Israel). That is, when I do a good deed, I include myself with the entire Jewish People, so that each and every Jew has a share in doing that Commandment. Thus, when a judge fulfills his duties, and a Cohen fulfills the Commandments given to him, and when a farmer keeps the Commandments pertaining to his work, I have a share in them.

To solidify my vicarious participation in those Commandments, I study them. It is true that I cannot personally fulfill the Commandment of building a fence around my roof, since I have no accessible roof in my home, but when I study the Laws of this Commandment, and I have a strong desire to fulfill the Commandment, Hashem counts it as if I have fulfilled the Commandment. For the Talmud teaches, «A good intention that a person honestly tries to fulfill but is prevented or unable to fulfill Hashem counts as if it has been performed.»(1)

And there are other ways to participate in Commandments we cannot actually do. The Torah commands each of us to write a Torah Scroll. Most of us cannot do that, and most of us cannot afford to hire a Scribe to write one for us. So we buy holy Books of the Torah, the Talmud, the Rabbinical Writings. We bring those into our homes and we study them (since once of the reasons for that Commandment is that we study Torah). And when we get the chance, we participate in someone else’s writing of a Torah Scroll. We might pay a few dollars to be included in the writing. (You can read a little bit about that here).

Few of us can afford to build a Synagogue or Jewish school. So we donate money to have one built or maintained. Supporting someone so that he can continue to study Torah in Yeshivah is one of the biggest Mitzvos, and when we do that we have a share in the fulfillment of the Commandment.

Okay, so what are the Mitzvos we are supposed to do? For some reason, many people have the impression that there are only ten commandments. Everyone has heard of the «Ten Commandments,» or at least they’ve heard of the movie.

I’ll tell you a secret. There’s no such thing!

Nowhere in the Torah is the phrase «ten commandments» used at all. When referring to these ten, the Torah always calls them the Aseres Had’vorim, the «Ten Matters,» or the «Ten Words.» (Or maybe even the «Ten Speeches.») In Aramaic, that comes out as «Aseres Hadibros,» which is what we usually call them. It means the same thing: «Ten Pronouncements.»

The Hebrew words for «Ten Commandments» would be «Aseres Hamitzvos.» But no such term exists anywhere in the Torah or in Rabbinical Writings. Anywhere.

However, in Exodus 34:28, the King James’ Bible uses the term «ten commandments» to translate the phrase, which is absolutely incorrect. That’s by far not the only translating error in the King James’ Bible.

The original Hebrew, however, doesn’t say that. The Hebrew says «Ten Pronouncements.» The same is true in Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:14. The Artscroll Chumash translates it as «the Ten Declarations,» which I think is very apt.

So get this: Millions of people in the world are confused because of a poor translation in the King James’ Bible. They all think that when the Torah refers to «doing Hashem’s Commandments,» the Torah is referring to those Ten Declarations that Hashem spoke at Mount Sinai, and no more! And the truth is, they’re wrong!

To be sure, the Ten Declarations are also Commandments. They are ten of the 613 Commandments of the Torah. Also, they represent ten categories of Commandments, which means that all the 613 can be represented by those ten, but there are far more than ten Commandments in the Torah. (The reason Hashem made those Ten Declarations will be discussed, Hashem willing, in another article, possibly on the Holiday Gateway for Shavuos. No promise.)

So there are actually 613 Commandments in the Torah, but as we have seen above, most of them don’t apply to most people.

So what are those Commandments? Keep your eyes tuned to this website. With Hashem’s help, there will be articles about them.

How the Mitzvos Protect Us From Sin

Human beings are dualistic creatures. We have both a physical side and a spiritual side. We have both needs, and we are simultaneously drawn towards both sides.

The two sides do not necessarily conflict. It is possible to grow spiritually without denying the physical needs and desires. But there is one major difference between the two sides. If the spiritual side gains complete mastery, it will still make sure to keep the physical side healthy. After all, the Torah also commands us to take good care of our bodies, and to keep ourselves healthy. And we are not supposed to completely deny ourselves all physical pleasures.

But if the physical side is allowed to get complete mastery, it completely ignores the spiritual. A person who lives without thinking spiritually will greatly harm his spirituality, without even aware that he is doing it.

So the spiritual side of us needs to be very careful, and has to stand guard all the time against the sort of physical behavior that can ruin our spirituality. Again, that’s not all physical things, just those which are forbidden, and those done to excess without thought.

So we have to keep a careful balance. We do not deny our physical selves, but we must keep a sharp eye. We must constantly use spiritual means to keep ourselves spiritually awake, on guard against forgetting our own spirituality.

It’s sort of like living in a war zone, where you have to keep your weapons with you al the time, and constantly check to make sure none of the enemies are lying in ambush against you.

And the physical has the upper hand, here in this physical universe. The soul is far from home, after all, since the soul comes from Heaven. This world is the physical world, and all the spiritual world that lies within it and keeps it alive is hidden from sight, until you develop that spiritual sense that you use to experience spirituality.

Now, Hashem wants us to be holy and spiritual, because we are the Holy Nation. So Hashem commanded us to hire bodyguards, so to speak. Maybe a better word is “soulguards,” instead of bodyguards. These soulguards are the Mitzvos of the Torah.

Therefore, Hashem commanded us to constantly speak and study Torah; to wear tzitzis, to place mezuzos on our doorposts, to wear tefillin on our heads and arms, etc.

The Torah therefore has Mitzvos for us that guard us all day. We have Mitzvos that we can perform every day from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep: Mitzvos about how we eat, how we speak, what we look at, how to dress, etc.

The Mitzvos, these soulguards, place within us the holiness that we need in order to maintain a high level of spirituality, to keep us away from that which is forbidden.

The Rabbis say that while the Kohanim (priests) in the Holy Temple performed the Mitzvos of their Holy Service they were exempt from keeping (and sometimes forbidden to keep) many of the other Mitzvos (Babylonian Talmud, Zevachim 19a). For they are already protected. The Kohanim are hard at work in a holy environment, doing holy things, and are thus protected from sin. (This is the explanation of the Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 421.)

The Rabbis also teach that every Jewish home must be made into a “small Holy Temple.” The work done in the home is of a level similar to that done by the Kohanim in the Holy Temple.

What work do you think they did in the Holy Temple? If you look at it with a purely physical attitude, you will see only the physical. They slaughtered animals, they caught the blood, they sprinkled the blood, they cut up meat, they cooked the meat, they ate the meat, they cleaned up the place afterward. What did they do that was so holy?

And indeed, if any Kohain took that attitude, you can bet that his actions would not be holy at all, and would completely invalidate his Service in the Temple. A Kohain had to know and be aware that each and every act of Service in the Holy Temple was commanded by Hashem to be a holy act, and therefore when they slaughtered an animal, when they sprinkled the blood, when they cleaned the floor, it was a holy act and part of the Holy Service that Hashem desired.

A great Rabbi once cleaned up a room for a guest, and the guest was concerned because the Rabbi was exerting himself a great deal. He said to the Rabbi, “Why does the Rabbi have to take out the ashtray? Couldn’t a servant do that?”

The Rabbi answered,

“You know that no one was ever allowed into the Holy of Holies, even the High Priest, except once a year, on Yom Kippur. The High Priest went into the Holy of Holies five times that day. One of the times that he went in was to do nothing but clean up the ashes of a fire he was required to light when he had been in earlier that day. The Torah requires the High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies just to do that one little act of cleaning! Even that is a Mitzvah.”

Perhaps (and this is my own suggestion and understanding of the matter) this is one of the reasons that women are exempt from many of the time-dependant Mitzvos. Involved as they are in setting up and maintaining a holy Jewish home, they are already surrounded and enveloped in the protection of the Mitzvos.

Please understand that each and every Mitzvah has very complex reasons. Do not assume that the only purpose of each Mitzvah is to protect us from sin. That is just one reason of many, and only in some cases is the primary purpose of of a Mitzvah.

But now your eyes are open to see one the many sublime concepts behind the Mitzvos. The Mitzvos penetrate and envelop us, protect us from sin, and make us holy.

All this is rather succinctly stated in a verse in the Torah: “So that you remember and do all My Commandments, and you will be holy to your G-d” (Numbers 15:40).

Clothing Mixtures: The Commandment of Shatnez

For some reason, many people believe that it is forbidden to wear clothing that contains mixtures of different fibers.

This is incorrect.

However, the Torah does forbid us to mix linen and wool in our clothes. And wool refers specifically to the wool of sheep, lamb and rams. Other fibers, however, are absolutely permitted. Many fabrics today have mixed fibers and are not 100% any particular one material, and this is usually permitted, unless wool and linen (or wool products and linen products) are mixed.

It is easy to make claims, so I will cite a legal source, no less than the great Maimonides himself. The Rambam (Maimonides), in Hilchos Kilayim (Laws of Mixtures) Chapter 10, Law 1, says quite explicitly:

Nothing at all is forbidden in clothing mixtures except wool and linen mixed together. As it says in the Torah (Deuteronomy 22:11): Do not wear shaatnez, wool and linen together.

In other words, the Rambam is saying that the Torah states explicitly that shaatnez is wool and linen together, and not any other mixture. Any other mixture in clothing is permissible.

The Torah, as we see, is rather clear that shatnez refers specifically and only to wool and linen.

Understanding the Reasons

The great Rabbinic Commentator Rashi says (on Genesis 26:5), quoting the Midrash, that the Law of shatnez is a chok, a decree that the King has passed for His subjects, for which we do not know the reason. A great many of the Commandments in the Torah are of that sort. We do not know precisely why pork is forbidden, for example. We do not understand how the Purification by means of a red heifer works.

Therefore, we can never truly understand the entire reason for this Mitzvah, but we can understand some of the concepts within it, at some level. Maimonides, in his Guide to the Perplexed, points out that ancient pagan priests used to wear wool and linen processed together, because they knew how to make use of it for occult practices, including idol worship and other terrible things, and therefore the Torah forbade us to use it for all time, and ordered us to stay far away from shatnez, as well as all other practices of the pagans.

Some of the details of the Law

Wool and linen attached to each other by any means is forbidden. It does not matter whether they are sewn together, spun, twisted, glued, or any method of attaching whatsoever. Any method of combining wool and linen is forbidden. Wool that has linen thread through it, linen that has woolen thread through it, wool and linen fabric sewn together by silk (or any type of thread), wool or linen held together by a needle or pin — all these are forbidden. However, it is permitted to wear a linen garment over a woolen garment, or vice versa, since they are not attached to each other.


Even the smallest amount is forbidden. For example, if you have a wool suit and the label is sewn on with a linen thread, it is forbidden to wear the suit until the linen thread is removed. You may not wear a wool jacket with a linen patch on the elbow, or anywhere else.

The prohibition of shatnez applies to any sort of material, whether it be used for socks, shoes, gloves, pajamas, etc., and to any period of time, no matter how brief. We may not even try on clothing that has shatnez to see if it fits.

Some basic guidelines

All suits and winter coats should be checked for Shatnez no matter what the label says. Even 100% synthetic suits have been found to contain Shatnez. Similarly, all «linen look» fabrics, (recognizable by the thick and thin thread appearance, just like linen) should be checked.

Clothing that lists wool, linen (flax) or even the slightest quantity of unidentified «other fibers» (O.F.) on the label should be checked. Since one of the two forbidden fibers is already present, the odds of finding Shatnez increase greatly. Recently, some Italian and Spanish ties whose labels cited only silk and linen turned out to have wool in them as well, and so they are shatnez.

  • Avoid reprocessed or recycled materials.
  • Avoid Appliques — especially on sweaters and children’s clothing.

All other types of garments (i.e., those not mentioned above) are usually safe from shatnez if neither linen nor wool are mentioned on the label. Sometimes, however, certain companies or specific lines of clothing develop problems. You can visit a Shatnez Consumer Alerts page on the web. (See the link below.)

If Shatnez is found in a garment and the Shatnez is removed, it becomes permitted to wear the garment.

It is forbidden to wear shatnez even if your body doesn’t touch the material, and even if you get no personal pleasure from it. Even if it does not warm you, or make you feel better in any way, it is still forbidden. So if you wear only the part that has no shatnez, and you let the part with the shatnez dangle and not touch you, you are still transgressing the Mitzvah.

It is also forbidden to dress another Jew, even a baby, with shatnez.

Some Practical Directions

If you discover you are wearing shatnez, you are required to immediately remove it — unless you are in a synagogue. Then you should wait until the end of the prayers or the learning session or some time that it is okay to get up and leave, and then go out and remove the article of clothing.

A dealer, storeowner, or salesperson, may sell shatnez fabric or clothing, but not if there is any possibility that a Jew might wind up wearing it. That means you may not sell it even to a Gentile if there is a possibility that he might give or sell it to a Jew.

Don’t make light of this prohibition. This is one of the Mitzvos of the Torah, and it applies at all times and to all Jews, male or female. The same Torah that forbids us to eat pork forbids us to wear shatnez. It is equally as bad to wear shatnez as it is to eat milk and meat together.

There is a common misconception that no one keeps this Law today. That is absolutely incorrect. This Law is in force today, and we are required today to keep it just as we were required to keep it for the past three thousand, three hundred (etc.) years since the Torah was given. Today, just as in the past, all those who desire to keep the Mitzvos of the Torah are careful not to wear shatnez. This is almost as widespread among Jews as keeping kosher. Jewish men and women all over the world keep this Mitzvah.

So How Do We Keep This In This Day and Age?

The mixing of wool and linen in mass-produced clothing is much more prevalent than you would think. For this reason Shatnez laboratories have been set up throughout America and Israel, and many other parts of the world. Clothing stores owned by religious Jews often have regular visits by their representatives, who test the clothing, and place on them special seals. My suits all have them, or I don’t buy them. Plus you can take your clothing to a Shatnez Laboratory where they will check your clothing for you, for a small fee.

Not all clothing items have to be checked, because these days not every type of clothing is likely to contain wool and linen together. The people at the lab know what needs to be checked and what does not. Once, when I was in Israel, I stopped by the shatnez Laboratory in Jerusalem, and showed them an article of clothing I had that I suspected could have shatnez. The person at the counter took one look, and told me «They do not need to be checked.»

When you buy a garment, you cannot rely on anyone’s opinion, and you can’t even rely on the manufacturer’s label. Manufacturers are not required by law to reveal every element in their clothing. Even if a garment says 100% wool, it may legally still contain linen threads, and these need not be mentioned by law. In addition, United States government regulations allow a manufacturer to write «100% wool» or «100% synthetic materials,» even if 2% of the garment is made up of other materials. Yet by Jewish Law any amount makes it shatnez (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 299:4). Therefore even clothes made of synthetic materials may need checking.

However, there are definitely types of clothing that do not need to be checked, as I mentioned above. To find out which of your clothing needs to be checked, and/or to have your clothing checked, call the National Committee of Shatnez Testers, in the United States or Canada, at 800-SHATNES (800-742-8637), from 2:00 PM until 5:00 PM and after 8:00 PM, Eastern Standard Time, Sundays through Thursdays. In Israel, call either (02) 654-0928, in Jerusalem, or (08) 974-0648, in Kiryat Sefer. Or else, visit Shatnez Testers of America, where they have lots of information about Shatnez, including Shatnez alerts, guidelines as to what needs to be checked and what doesn’t, lists of Shatnez testing labs in various countries, and more.

The Rabbis (Chochmas Odom, Hilchos Shatnez, 106:28) have said, «Anyone who is careful to avoid wearing shatnez will merit to be dressed in garments of salvation and a cloak of righteousness.»

The Mitzvah of Tefillin

The Torah tells us «And you shall bind them as a sign on your arm, and they shall be as frontlets on your head between your eyes» (Deuteronomy 6:8). This is the Mitzvah of Tefillin, though of course the details are much more complex than that.

The Torah tells us in four places that we should put on tefillin. (The four places are: Deut.6:4-9; Deut. 11:13-21; Exodus 13:1-10; and Exodus 13:11-16.) Each of these places is a separate chapter in the Torah (according to the original chapter and paragraph system, not according to the more popular one now in use, which was created by Christians and bears no relation or similarity to the original system).

Therefore, each of these chapters are written on small pieces of parchment and placed into leather housings, which a man places on the arm and the head, along with special leather straps.

The Rabbis say many great things about the Mitzvah of Tefillin. The Sefer Hachinuch (Book of Jewish Education) says that it is one of the Mitzvos that helps protects us against sin.

I think that the best way to understand the Mitzvah of Tefillin is to read the prayer that we recite each day before putting them on.

My intention in putting on tefillin is to fulfill the will of my Creator, Who has commanded us to put on tefillin, as it says in His Torah, «And you shall bind them as a sign on your arm, and they shall be as frontlets on your head between your eyes.»

They contain the four chapters from the Torah in which the Mitzvah of tefillin is stated….

Those chapters discuss how Hashem, Whose Name is blessed, is One, and only One, in the entire universe. Those chapters also discuss the miracles and wonders that Hashem did for us when He took us out of Egypt. They discuss how Hashem alone has the power and the dominion to do whatever He wants in the physical world and in the spiritual world.

Hashem commanded us to put tefillin on our arms to remember the «strong arm» (which refers to the powerful and cataclysmic changes in nature that Hashem performed for us when He took us out of Egypt).

The tefillin on our arms is near the heart to control the lusts and thoughts of our hearts and redirect them towards performing the Service we are commanded to perform for Hashem, Whose Name is blessed.

The tefillin on our heads is near the brain, so that the spiritual elements in our brains, as well as our senses and all our abilities, should should all be controlled and redirected towards performing the Service we are commanded to perform for Hashem, Whose Name is blessed.

May the performance of the Mitzvah of tefillin influence me and bestow upon me long life, Holy Influence, holy thoughts — without even a moment’s consideration of any sin or bad thing whatsoever — and that our Evil Inclination should not be aroused, nor should it seduce us, and should let us serve Hashem the way our hearts truly desire to.

May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d, and G-d of our forefathers, that You value our performance of this Mitzvah of putting on tefillin as if we had done it absolutely perfectly, with every detail accurate, and with all the correct thoughts and intentions….

We put tefillin on once a day, usually for the morning prayers.

We may not wear tefillin at night.

The Laws of creating tefillin are very complex. It is impossible for a layperson to make them. They must be written with Halachically acceptable ink, on Halachically acceptable parchment. Each letter must be formed according to specific and exacting details. If only one point on one letter is slightly rounded off when it should be pointed, the entire pair of tefillin is invalid. The housings must be perfectly square when viewed from the top. Even the stitches that keep the housing closed must be square when viewed from above, and may be done only with Halachically acceptable kosher animal sinews.

The letters must all be written in order. If a letter has been written incorrectly, it cannot be fixed out of sequence. Sometimes one bad letter can invalidate an entire pair of tefillin.

Since there are so many Laws about tefillin, one should buy them only from an honest Jew who knows the Laws, and can be trusted to make them correctly. A dishonest man might find a problem, and fix it incorrectly, just to save money. Therefore we must be very careful from whom we buy our tefillin.

When you go to buy tefillin, be aware that there are various levels of quality in tefillin. This is not a scam. The more expensive ones are actually better, and they will also last longer. They are also more preferred, the Talmud says, because they are created with a greater adherence to various spiritual concepts. But you should get what you are ready, willing and able to buy.

Get your tefillin checked periodically — at least once every four years, preferably once a year if possible. Any other time, if you see something wrong, such as the housings bending slightly, or paint chipping or cracking, get your tefillinchecked immediately.

Here are some of the Laws you should know about wearing tefillin.

If for some reason you have only one half of the set, whether it be only the one for the head, or only the one for the arm, put that one on and recite only the blessing for that one.

When putting on tefillin it is very important to have a clean body. In addition to general cleanliness, one must be especially careful to be clean after going to the bathroom.

Someone who has no control over what comes out of his body is forbidden to wear tefillin. Anyone in that situation should discuss it with his Rabbi to find out when and how he may wear tefillin.

One should go to the bathroom before putting on tefillin, or at least be absolutely sure he will not have to go while wearing the tefillin. If while wearing tefillin you feel the need to go to the bathroom, you must immediately remove the tefillin and go.

If you feel the need to pass gas while wearing tefillin, you must first remove your tefillin.

Never take tefillin or any holy item into a bathroom.

While wearing tefillin, one should think no thoughts at all except thoughts of Hashem, Torah or prayer. All the more so should he be careful about what he says out loud.

We may wear tefillin only during the day.

We do not put on tefillin on Shabbos.

Tefillin should be put on your weaker hand. If you are right-handed, use your right hand to put your tefillin on your left hand. If you are left-handed, use your left hand to put tefillin on your right hand. If you are ambidextrous, you must ask your Rabbi, because each case is different. If you are unable to contact a Rabbi for some reason, assume in the interim that the hand with which you write is your stronger hand (for this purpose, at least).

Always treat your tefillin with the greatest of respect and reverence. Do not remove them from the bag by shaking them out of the bag, for example. Always take them out carefully, and put them back carefully.

To show our love for the Mitzvah, we use our stronger hand to put the tefillin onto our weaker hand. We also use our stronger hand to put the tefillin on our head. When taking off the tefillin, we use our weaker hand, to show our reluctance to take off the Mitzvah.

Tefillin are made of leather. That means that you must keep them safe from things that hurt leather, like moisture and extreme temperatures.

How to Put on Your Tefillin

This is a brief guide to putting on tefillin, but it will be much easier if you have a live person showing you and helping you your first time. Words and pictures cannot equal the real thing.

You should be standing when putting on or taking off tefillin. While wearing them you may sit, but while putting them on or taking them off you should be standing.

We start with the hand. We never start with the head, so if you accidentally take out the shel rosh (the one for the head) first, you must put it back and take out the shel yad (the one for the hand).

Unwrap the straps and take the shel yad out of the box.

Open the loop very wide, and slide back the shel yad until the bayis (the housing — i.e., the black box) sits on the center of your biceps.

The knot should be tightly touching the bayis, and should be between you and the bayis.

Recite the first blessing:

Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who has made us holy through His commandments, and commanded us to put on tefillin.

Tighten the loop, and begin wrapping the strap around your hand. There are different customs about some of the minor details of the wrapping, so I will explain the custom that is shown in the pictures. In the picture I have included on this page, the man is wrapping the strap towards himself, but some have the custom to wrap away from themselves.

Wrap at least once around your biceps, and seven times around your lower arm. Stop at the palm, and wrap the remainder of the strap around your palm. Do not wrap the strap around your fingers just yet.

Remove the shel rosh from the bag, unwrap the straps, and take it out of the box.

Place the shel rosh on your head, with the bayis on your head just before the hairline.

The knot should be behind your head, just above your neck, and the strap should be lying loosely on your head.

Recite the blessing:

Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who has made us holy through His commandments, and commanded us concerning the Mitzvah of tefillin.

Tighten the straps around your head by pulling them down at the sides, front and back, as necessary.

This is how it should look.


This is wrong. The shel rosh is too far forward.


Shine upon me some of Your wisdom, Hashem Who is supreme, and give me understanding from Your understanding. Do great things for me out of Your kindness. Destroy, with your power, my enemies and adversaries. Let the good oil pour down on the seven branches of the menorah, to influence all Your creation with Your goodness. You open Your hand to satisfy the desires of all living things.

Now resume wrapping the strap of the shel yad. Unwind the strap from your palm, and wrap the strap around your middle finger. There are various customs concerning this. If you have no one there to guide you, do it this way:

As the strap comes from the wrist, pass it over the back of your hand. Wrapping around to the other side, pass it between your thumb and your first finger and take the strap down to the middle finger.

Wrap it once around the base of the middle finger, then once around the middle section of the middle finger. Then wrap it once around the base of the middle finger again. This should create something resembling an X around your finger.

Next, pass it again under your finger, over to the next finger down, and around that finger, and back and over the back of your hand to the area between your thumb and fingers again.

Now take the strap down under your hand across the palm, and around and over again to the area between your thumb and fingers. If there is any strap left, continue to wrap it around your palm and hand.

Tuck the end of the strap into the palm of your hand, around and beneath some of the strap that is already there. Do this at least twice, and pass the end of the strap through the final tuck to make a loop, and tighten it, to sort of tie off the end.

Look at the picture above to see how your hand should look when you you are finished. You will see that the straps sort of spell out the Three-Letter Name of Hashem, with a «shin,» a «daled,» and a «yud.»

Now recite:

I will betroth you to Me forever, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, kindness, and mercy. I will betroth you to Me with faithfulness, and you shall know Me, Hashem.

Now say the prayers.

When you take off the tefillin, first unwrap the strap from your fingers, wrapping it around your palm. Then take off the shel rosh. Wrap it up and put it away. then take off your shel yad, wrap it up and put it away.

When you wrap your tefillin to put them away, do not pull the straps tightly around the boxes. Leather can stretch a little, but the paint on the straps cannot stretch without cracking. The straps must be entirely black, according to Halachah, and if the paint on them cracks the straps could become invalid.

To buy a pair of tefillin, visit Tiferes Stam Judaica. Ask them also for a good beginner’s book on tefillin. One good source is Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s booklet on Tefillin. Tell them I sent you.

Tzitzis: What Are Those Strings Jewish Men Wear?

Judaism is an all-encompassing way of life.

The Laws of Judaism have the purpose of adding spiritual aspects to our physical natures. This is a fundamental concept of Judaism. In all physical acts, we find a way to develop and express the inner spirituality inherent in that act, while still enjoying the physical act. The Torah therefore has Laws that pertain to all areas of life.

The Torah therefore says, «Know Him in all your behavior, and He will straighten your paths» (Proverbs 3:6). This is why we have Commandments in every aspect of our lives. In everything we do, we include the divine. The Commandments thereby lift up every act we do from the mundane to the holy.

Therefore, we have Standards for everything we do. We have Standards for eating, we have Standards for talking, we have Standards for dressing, even about sleeping and going to the bathroom.

These Standards, these Laws, ensure that we bring G-d into each and every action of our lives.

Among the Standards of clothing, you can find in the Torah such Laws as not mixing wool with linen (Deuteronomy 22:11 — other fabric blends are mostly permitted, by the way), for men not to dress as women nor women as men (ibid. 22:5), and a few others. Also in that same chapter, in verse 12, you will find one of the two Biblical references to those strings we wear:

Make yourself bound tassles on the four corners of clothing with which you cover yourself.

The nature of these «bound tassles» is, of course, explained in the Oral Torah. (This, incidentally, is another example of the fact that without the Oral Torah we would never know how to keep the Commandments.)

The other mention of Tzitzis in the Written Torah is in Numbers 15:37-41. There we are taught:

Hashem told Moses, Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them that they should make «tzitzis» on the corners of their clothing. This pertains to all generations of Jews.

You shall put on the tzitzis of each corner one thread of t’chailes.

You will have these tzitzis, and when you see them you will remember all the Commandments of Hashem and you will do them, and you will not pursue the desires of you hearts or eyes.

So that you remember and do all My Commandments, and you will be holy to your G-d. For I am Hashem your G-d Who has taken you out of Egypt so that I could be your G-d.

I am Hashem your G-d.

Every Commandment that Hashem has given us comprises many different levels. We do not always know the reasons of the Commandments. Even when the Torah gives us a reason for a Commandment there are also additional deeper reasons that we may not know. This time, the Torah tells us some of the spiritual concepts in a Commandment. We are taught that if we develop self-control and fulfill the Torah’s Commandments, we will become holy and special to Hashem. That is a very important concept in Judaism.

The Torah here also teaches us that this Commandment will remind us to keep all the other Commandments. This is one reason many people wear the strings hanging out, so they can see them from time to time. (Another reason is so that the strings, which are a holy Mitzvah, are not placed next to one’s underwear.)

Each and every Commandment of the Torah helps establish our relationship with Hashem. The Torah therefore says, «So that you remember and do all My Commandments, and you will be holy to your G-d.»

Everything about tzitzis symbolizes deep concepts. For example, there are 16 strings used, four on each corner, and each corner has ten knots, which equals 26, which is the numerical value of Hashem’s Name that denotes kindness. There are many other symbolic concepts in tzitzis, but those are not the main point of the Commandment.

As far as the parameters of the Commandment itself, the Torah requires that on any four-cornered garment (of a certain minumum size) worn by a man during the day, such strings must be tied according to specific configurations. That is, the strings must be made a certain way, and they must be tied and wrapped in a certain way. They must be a minimum of a certain length, and they must be made of a specific number of strings. Even the style and number of knots is mandated to precise requirements.

Therefore, unless you know how, do not attempt to tie tzitzis on to a garment yourself. All good Judaica stores sell four-cornered garments with tzitzis already tied on them.

It is forbidden to wear a four-cornered garment without properly attached tzitzis. If they are tied incorrectly, you may not wear the garment. Even if it was done correctly, but two or more strings on even just one corner fall off or become untwisted, or if two or more strings get cut or torn until they are shorter than a certain length, you must immediately remove the entire garment. As long as you do not wear the garment, you are not required to put tzitzis on it.

There is an article of clothing made of cour corners that is standard wear for Jewish men. By wearing this, we get to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tzitzis. Many people call this garment a pair of tzitzis, or more properly, a tallis katan (which means something like «small wrap-around garment.» Many call it «arba kanfos,» which literally means «four corners.» Look here for some drawings.

In addition to the smaller four-cornered garment, the arba kanfos,» that men wear throughout the day, there is also the larger tallis, which men wear only during the morning prayers. This is also called a tallis gadol, which means something like «large wrap-around garment.» Some peoplecall this a «prayer shawl,» but it is supposed to be much larger than a shawl. The tallis, since it has four corners, must also have tzitzis, and the Laws for them are the same.

Before putting on any four-cornered garment, we must carefully check each corner to make sure the tzitzis are on correctly. For example, every morning, when we get dressed, and we put on our small «arba kanfos,» we may not put it on before we have checked to make sure the tzitzis are intact. If the tzitzis were bought from a reliable store, we do not have to check everything about the tzitzis. We just have to check that none of the strings have been torn off, and that each is at least about 1 and 1/2 inches long. If one string has torn and is now less than that length, the tzitzis are still acceptable. If two or more strings on the same corner have torn, and are both now shorter than 1 and 1/2 inches long, then the tzitzis are invalid and must be replaced. You can usually take it to a good Judaica store and ask them to do this for you for a small fee.

The same is true for a tallis, of course.

A scarf usually does not need tzitzis, since it generally is more narrow than the required minimum size. However, a very wide scarf could be a problem. As always, ask a competent Rabbi if this problem comes up.

A garment worn only during the night does not need tzitzis. However, if a man wears a daytime garment during the night, it is required to have tzitzis.

Women are therefore not required to wear tzitzis, because it is required only on a garment that is worn during the day, and thus it is a time-dependent Mitzvah. Women are exempt from most (though not all) time-dependent Positive Mitzvos.

By way of brief explanation, women themselves are enveloping creatures; men are penetrating creatures, so to speak. Women have the capability of carrying and protecting an unborn child, which men cannot do. Women are in themselves a tallis, with the ability and requirement to surround the Jewish home and family with holiness. For a deeper explanation about why women do not wear tallis and tzitzis, see the link below to my wife’s article on the subject.

The basic requirement applies only if a man happens to have a garment with four corners, and intends to wear it during the daytime. Then he is required to put tzitzis on it. If he has no such garment, there is no requirement to wear tzitzis.

But consider this: The Commandment of Tzitzis is unlike most other Commandments, in that it involves something that surrounds us. When we wear tzitzis around our torsos, holiness surrounds us from head to toe.

Therefore, the Rabbis taught that whenever possible one should try very hard to perform this Commandment, and make or purchase a garment with four corners, so he can keep the Commandment and put tzitzis on it and wear them. For after all, the Torah ties in the Mitzvah of Tzitzis with all the Mitzvos of the Torah, and says, «You will have these tzitzis, and when you see them you will remember all the Commandments of Hashem and you will do them…»

The T’chailes

The Torah also commands that we dye one of the threads on each corner with a special blue dye, called «t’chailes

The Rabbis teach numerous deep concepts about this detail of the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, and I will, with Hashem’s help, cite one of them.

The Rabbis teach that the blue thread reminds us of the sky, which reminds us of the Throne of Glory of the Creator, which the Torah describes as being like sapphire, which is blue. «The saw a vision of the G-d of Israel, and under His feet was something like a sapphire brick, like the essence of a clear blue sky» (Exodus 24:10; see also Ezekiel 1:26). They did not see the Creator Himself, but only what was «under His feet,» so to speak. The blue thread reminds us of this concept, and reminds us to follow not what our heart and eyes think is correct, but after what the Creator has told us is correct.

It is forbidden to use any other dye, no matter how blue. This t’chailes was made from a creature that was called, in ancient Hebrew, «chilazon,» but no one knows for sure what that is called in English. The important thing to remember is that the blue thread is a detail in the Commandment, not the primary Commandment. Therefore, if one does not have the blue dye, one must still place tzitzis on all four-cornered daytime clothing.

For many centuries people attempted to discover the nature of this chilazon. Some respectable theories have been developed, and therefore some Rabbis have produced this dye, and their followers do indeed dye one thread on each corner with that special dye.

However, most Rabbis argue that since it is forbidden to wear any other dye on the tzitzis, we should not wear that dye, in case it is the wrong one. And after all, the blue thread is not necessary in order to fulfill the Commandment. Therefore, most Jewish men do not have the blue string on their tzitzis.

As always, one should follow one’s own Rabbi in these matters.

Mezuzah: The Jewish Lightning Rod

On the doorposts of every Observant-Jewish home, you will find a little rectangular case. Inside that case is a Mezuzah. It’s there because the Torah commands us to affix a Mezuzah on each doorpost in our homes.

What is a Mezuzah? In brief, a Mezuzah is two chapters from the Torah written (in Hebrew, of course) on a piece of parchment. The parchment is then rolled into a scroll, wrapped in paper or plastic, usually inserted into a hard-plastic or metal case, and affixed to the doorpost. We will, with Hashem’s help, discuss this more at length below. First let us discuss the meaning of this Mitzvah.

The essence of the mitzvah of Mezuzah is the concept of the Oneness of G-d. The very first verse written on the Mezuzah is the Shema: “Hear oh Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.” When we pass a doorpost, we touch the Mezuzah and remember that G-d is One: a Oneness that is perfect and unique, a Oneness that is not one of many, nor one of a species. G-d is One without parts, partners, copies, or any divisions whatsoever.

Moreover, Hashem is our G-d, Whom we must love and obey, and Who protects us.

Every moment that the Mezuzah is on your doorpost is another merit in your favor, even though you are not actively doing anything!

How a Mezuzah is Made

There is a common tendency to call the box the “Mezuzah,” and the scroll the “parchment.” This is a mistake. The Mezuzah is the parchment scroll with the writing on it. The box is just a box. It’s primary purpose is to protect the Mezuzah that is inside it.

A Mezuzah must be handwritten. If it is printed, copied, photographed, or produced by any means other than writing, then it is invalid and may not be used.

A Mezuzah must contain in Hebrew, in a special alphabet, the following two chapters: Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21. Anything else, or anything more or less is completely unacceptable. There is only one way to write a Mezuzah. There are no alternatives.

After the Mezuzah is written, it should look something like this:

(Please note that all the Names of Hashem in the gif to the left have been intentionally created incomplete, to prevent any accidental desecration. However, it is still Torah, and should not be treated lightly.)

This is not necessarily the actual size. A Mezuzah can be anywhere from two inches square to six inches square. However, it is inadvisable to use a two-inch square Mezuzah, as they are harder to write, and therefore more prone to errors and spoilage.

There is also writing on the outside of the Mezuzah, including other Names of Hashem, one of which becomes at least partly visible when the Mezuzah is rolled.

Of course, the Mezuzah will not look like this on the doorpost, because Jewish Law says that it must be rolled and placed in a case.

The Mezuzah must be written on special, handmade parchment. If it is written on any other type of surface, it is invalid. The parchment must come from a kosher animal, such as a cow, or a goat, and must be prepared by means of specific processes.

The ink used in the writing must also be made according to specific Laws. Among other things, it must be black. The quill used for the writing is also made a certain way (but that’s mostly for practical reasons, not for legal reasons). And the writing of the Mezuzah itself must be performed according to many very exacting Laws.

While the creation of a Mezuzah, tefillin, or Torah Scroll takes a great deal of work, that’s not where the biggest effort goes. The most work must be put into the fashioning of the person who writes the Mezuzah! And the person who writes the Mezuzah is the only one who can do that work for him.

The person who writes the Mezuzah is called a sofer (scribe). Since Mezuzah is a Commandment of the Torah, we must put the maximum holiness into it. This can be done only when a holy person writes the Mezuzah. A sofer must be fully trained in all the many Laws of writing mezuzos, tefillin, and Torah Scrolls. He must also love and fear Hashem, and be very punctilious in performing the Commandments properly and with holiness.

In the case of Mezuzah and tefillin, there is also an added concern that demands that the sofer be concerned about performing the Commandments properly. When a Mezuzah is created, the sofer must write the words in order. If even one letter is written out of order, the entire Mezuzah is invalid. If he writes an entire Mezuzah, and then discovers that one letter was written completely incorrectly, he cannot fix it out of order. If he fixes the letter, he then has to erase and rewrite the entire Mezuzah from that point forward. The problem with this is that often this means that he would have to erase Hashem’s Name, and that is forbidden.

So, if he makes a mistake with, say the third letter in the Mezuzah, and he discovers it only later, or if the third letter got ruined later somehow (like ink or water fell on it), this is a problem. He has to rewrite the letter, but that means that he has to erase and rewrite every letter — in order — from the third letter until the end. However, the third word of every Mezuzah is Hashem’s Name, and none of the letters in Hashem’s Name may be erased. (It is forbidden to erase even one letter of Hashem’s Name.) This means that the entire Mezuzah is invalid, because one letter is invalid, and the Mezuzah must now be put away, according to the Laws of invalid holy items. (The Law of writing entirely in order is true for Tefillin as well, but not for Torah Scrolls.)

This means that if a sofer is unscrupulous, and he finds an error, he might fix the Mezuzah improperly, and the unsuspecting consumer now has an invalid Mezuzah, and is not fulfilling the Commandment! What is he to do about that?

This is why we must purchase our mezuzos only from Hashem-fearing Jews.

But there is an even worse scenario. The Law states that if a man does not believe in Hashem, or even if he does not believe in just one word of the Torah, and he writes a Mezuzah, or Tefillin, or Torah Scroll, even if he keeps all the Laws properly, his writing is invalid, and what he has written must be buried. If he denies even one word of the Torah, his works are not holy, and they may not be used at all, but must be buried. (This is not a far-fetched scenario at all. There have been and there are today many non-religious Jews in this field.) So we must be very careful from who we buy our mezuzos, tefillin, and Torah Scrolls.

Unfortunately, in the course of my work in this area (and you will hear the same from anyone who has ever worked in this field), I have found many mezuzos that were never properly written, and were definite frauds. I once opened up a Mezuzah case and found inside a piece of paper with the Ten Commandments in English! I have found printed mezuzos, mezuzos on paper, scrawled mezuzos, and any number of fraudulent things. Many people would never have been able to tell that these were fakes. We must be very careful from who we buy our holy items!

In the writing of a Mezuzah, tefillin, or Torah Scroll, there are also many Laws concerning the shapes of the letters. Calligraphy really makes a difference here! If a letter is misshapen, the entire Mezuzah, tefillin, or Torah Scroll is invalid. Yes, an entire Torah Scroll is invalid because of one misshapen letter. And the shape of each letter is intricately and precisely described by Jewish Law. It is not up to the individual sofer to decide how a letter should look.

However, within the limits of the Law, there is a lot of leeway. In general, the better the handwriting, the nicer the Mezuzah. Jewish Law considers nicer Mezuzos better, because they enhance the Mitzvah. Since they are harder to write, they usually cost more. Buying a more expensive Mitzvah is an expression of love for Hashem’s Commandments. It doesn’t mean that Hashem cares how much money you spend. Hashem cares how you feel when you decide to buy a nicer Mezuzah.

However, you are not at all required to spend more than you can afford for a nicer Mezuzah. You are required to pay more than you can afford — even all your money — if that’s what it will take to get kosher Mezuzos for your home. But if you are spending your last dollar to buy Mezuzos, then you should probably get cheaper Mezuzos.

There are not many Laws concerning the case in which the Mezuzah is put. It doesn’t matter who made the case. It could even be made by a Gentile. As long the Mezuzah fits in without being squashed or folded, it should be okay. Unfortunately, there are manufacturers of Mezuzah cases who have no idea of how a Mezuzah looks, and sometimes mezuzos can’t actually fit into those cases! So take care before buying a Mezuzah case to make sure that the Mezuzah can actually fit inside.

I also must point out that Mezuzos can actually lose quality over time. Even a kosher Mezuzah that was in excellent condition and quality when created can spoil over time. For example, when a Mezuzah gets old, it often starts to dry up. Cracks often develop in the letters, which invalidates it. I once opened a very old Mezuzah, and one of the letters popped off the parchment and hit me in the face!

Letters can also fade, and thereby invalidate the Mezuzah or tefillin. Sometimes a slightly faded letter can be rewritten, but only a properly trained sofer knows when, so we must always bring it to a sofer to be checked.

Jewish Law states that a Mezuzah must be checked about once in every three or four years.

The Requirement of Mezuzah

Any Jew, man or woman, who lives in an apartment or house is required to place Mezuzos on the doorposts of his or her home. It is not the obligation of the landlord or landlady. It is the obligation of the person living there.

It is best to place the mezuzos on the doorposts when you first move in. In any case, do not wait longer than thirty days before putting up the mezuzos.

If you will not be living in that home for longer than 29 days, you are not required to have Mezuzos.

Generally, Jewish Law defines a door as having a ceiling and two doorposts. To be a doorway, it must have a lintel. A lintel is a horizontal top-piece over the doorway, which gives the opening the look of a doorway. An opening (like a gate) that has no ceiling, but just has two vertical posts, does not need a Mezuzah. Since there are many types of doorframes, it is best to describe to the sofer who sells you your mezuzos any different type of doorways you may have; he should be able to tell you which ones need mezuzos and which do not.

The corner of a hallway usually counts as a doorpost. Again, ask your sofer.

Every room or closet that is about 36 square feet or more needs a Mezuzah on the door.

The doorway to a small room or hallway that leads to a larger room, or leads to a staircase, needs a Mezuzah.

Every room needs a Mezuzah except for bathrooms. A bedroom and a laundry room needs a Mezuzah.

A gate (that has a lintel) that reaches 30 inches or more higher than the ground must have a Mezuzah.

How to Affix a Mezuzah.

Do not roll the Mezuzah yourself. The sofer who sells it to you should have rolled it and placed it in a case before giving it to you.

The case must be firmly affixed to the doorpost, in a manner that will not easily allow it to fall off. If this is a metal case, to be fixed to a metal doorpost, double-sided tape is strong enough to be used. However, scotch tape should NEVER be used, because it is not strong enough, and making the blessing would be very questionable. The blessing translates, more or less, as “and Who has commanded us to strongly affix a Mezuzah.” So in order to make the blessing before putting up the Mezuzah, we must be sure that we are putting it up strongly. Therefore, the best thing to use is nails. Mezuzah cases usually have nail holes.

The Mezuzah scroll, in the case, should be placed on the inside of right doorpost as you enter the room.

It should be placed as close as possible to the outside of the doorway, while still remaining within the inside of the doorframe, as in the pictures above. However, if you have one of those doors that swings in both directions, that is, both in and out of the door frame, it will hit the mezuzah. In that case, you should place it on the outside (not the inside) of the door frame as you enter, as close as possible to where the mezuzah is really supposed to be.

The door leading into every room (whether the door to your house or the door to your bedroom, kitchen, etc. – except the ddor to a bathroom or small closet) needs a Mezuzah, unless the door has been boarded up or sealed shut so that it is impossible to use the door as it is. Simply locking the door and never going through is not enough. A door that is not boarded up still needs a Mezuzah, even if it is locked and never used.

The Mezuzah should be placed at the bottom part of the top third of the doorpost. So, for example, if your doorway is 9 feet high (which is rather high, I know, but this is just an example), you would place the Mezuzah at the bottom of the third foot from the top. The bottom end of the Mezuzah would be touching the top of the fourth foot counting from the top.

According to Jewish Law, the doorpost does not need to be measured. You can simply look at it, and place it more or less at the correct spot. The placement does not need to be precise.

The Mezuzah should be placed within the doorframe, underneath the lintel. With doors that swing both ways, it is usually impossible to place a Mezuzah inside the doorframe, as that would impede the door from swinging the other way. In such cases, place the Mezuzah on the outside of the doorframe, as close as possible to the doorway.

Ideally, however, the Mezuzah should be placed within the doorframe, not on the outside of the doorframe, and not on the inside of the room.

The Mezuzah should be placed within the frame (wherever possible), but as close as possible to the outside of the doorframe. This way, one of the first things you meet when you come home is a Mitzvah.

The Ashkenazic custom is to place the Mezuzah at a slight angle (about 45 degrees or less) to the left, with the top facing in to the room. The Sefardic custom is to place the Mezuzah vertically. If you put them up according to the other custom, it is not necessary to fix it. Since Mezuzah scrolls should be checked about every three or so years, you can change the angle when you put them back up.

Never paint over a Mezuzah case. It could ruin the scroll inside, and then you will have no Mezuzah.

On a door onto which it rains, use a waterproof case. This should help protect the Mezuzah inside the case.

Before placing the Mezuzah on the doorpost, hold it in place, with the hammer ready (in the case of double-sided tape, hold it an inch or so away from the doorpost), and recite:

Boruch Attah A-donai E-lohainu Melech ha-olam, asher kiddishanoo bimitzvotav vitzivanoo likvo-ah Mezuzah.

(Blessed are You Hashem our G-d, Who has made us holy through His Commandments and commanded us to strongly affix a Mezuzah.)

Place the Mezuzah on the doorpost and nail it in if using nails.

Make one blessing for all the mezuzos in the house (usually on the front door). After reciting the blessing, do not speak any words at all until affixing all mezuzos throughout the house.

To buy a good Mezuzah, I would suggest you try out a place called Tiferes Judaica.

The Talmud says that a proper Mezuzah offers protection of the home. A king once gave a Rabbi a diamond as a present, so the Rabbi gave the king a Mezuzah as a present. the king did not know what it was, and got insulted. The Rabbi explained, I will have to hire guards to protect my home because of the the gift you gave me, but the gift I gave you will protect your home!

Keeping the Commandments of the Torah always brings blessings, and the Talmud says that keeping the Commandment of Mezuzah brings long life and is a protection for the home. Of course, the holier a home is kept, the more the protection. Therefore we should always be careful of what we bring into our homes. When we are prepared to carry something into our home, whether it be food to eat, or food for thought (books, magazines, etc.), we should stop and consider, whether or not it will shame the Mezuzah to have that carried past it into the home. If we do that, and protect our homes from spiritual invasion, we can be assured that our homes will always be protected from physical invasion.