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PARASHAT BO 5758
"[The Tefillin (phylacteries) shall be worn] as a sign on your arm and as "Totafot" between your eyes." (Shmot 13:16)
'Totafot' means, 'Tefillin.' Because the Tefillin which is worn on the head is made up of four sections, it is called 'Totafot': 'Tot' in Katfi means '2,' and 'Fot' in African means '2' (making a total of four). (Rashi ibid., from Gemara Sanhedrin 4b)
Our Sages propose a very unusual source for splitting the Tefillin that is worn on our heads into 4 separate sections. The Torah calls them Totafot, which is a combination of two foreign words, each meaning "two."
Why did the Torah teach us to make four sections by adding two and two? Why didn't the Torah just use a word meaning "four?" Harav David Cohen (Cong. Gevul Ya'avetz, of Brooklyn, N.Y., author of Ohel David, 4 vol., Aidi d'Zutar, 2 vol., etc.) suggests an original approach to this question.
This week's Parasha tells us that the Jews were commanded in Egypt to place two passages from the Torah "as signs on our arms and Tefillin on our foreheads." Presumably they did so immediately, making themselves their first pairs of Tefillin. However, doing so would be somewhat problematic, since Tefillin include more than just those two passages. They include two additional passages, "Shema Yisrael" and "v'Haya Im Shamo'a," which Moshe only told the Jews 40 years later, when they were about to enter the Land of Israel. We must conclude, continues Rabbi Cohen, that the Jews were only required to put *two* of the traditional four passages in their Tefillin for the first forty years.
This, explains Rabbi Cohen, is why the Torah split the total number of passages into two sets of two. This was meant to show that the original installation of the passages in the Tefillin was done in two stages: the first two of the four were installed upon leaving Egypt, while the other two had to wait until some 40 years later!
I would like to suggest another approach to understanding the words of our Sages on this subject. Firstly, let us point out that not only is it strange that the number "four" was broken up into two twos; it is equally strange that the Torah teaches us these twos in totally unfamiliar tongues. Why not use the Hebrew word for "two?" The answer may be derived from a Gemara in Berachos:
Hashem, too, puts on Tefillin, as it were.... What passages are written in His Tefillin? "Who is like Your nation -- Israel -- a nation unique on earth" (I Divrei Hayamim 17:21).
Does Hashem, then, take pride in the praise of the Jewish People?
Yes, He does, as the verse says, "You have given distinction to Hashem today, and Hashem has given you distinction today" (Devarim 26:18). Hashem said to Israel, "Just as you have declared me to be unique in the world, I shall declare you to be unique in the world." (Berachos 6a)
The theme of Tefillin is that Hashem is One, and His nation is one. No other nation serves the G-d that is One, to the exclusion of all other deities. This is the hidden message of "'Tot' in the Katfi language means '2,' and 'Fot' in African means '2'." The highest praise that any foreign nation can sing to its deity is "Two." That is, any Avodah Zarah is but one of the many powers that Hashem created in the world; not the exclusive Power of Powers that controls and decides all that happens in the universe. The Katfian and African idolaters can but say "two."
Furthermore, no one nation can lay claim to being "unique" in serving their deity. Although different nations serve different gods (or ideals), they are all out to accomplish the same goal. They are attempting to effect their own financial and political success by appealing to the deity of their choice. They are serving themselves, not their gods. Also, each of their gods represents but one element in the whole of creation, and why should one element be ranked higher than another? Figuratively, for every "two" that the Katfi nation cries, a corresponding "two" is shouted by the Africans. The Jewish People, on the other hand, are willing to sacrifice all their worldly possessions -- even their very lives -- for the service of Hashem. They are unique among the nations of the world in their selfless devotion to the Creator of all.
The Torah described the Tefillin using *two* foreign terms for the word *two* to emphasize that other nations cannot put on Tefillin -- i.e., they do not serve a god that is one-- and that for that reason they do not receive the reciprocal praise of "Who is like Your nation, Israel, *unique* on earth!"
Why did the Torah pick specifically these two languages with which to express this point? Is there anything that makes these more appropriate than any other language?
We must first determine what exactly these two languages (Katfi, African) are. The latter is easy; the Targum often substitutes the word 'Africa' for Tarshish (I Melachim 10:22 etc.). Tracking down 'Katfi' entails a more difficult task, as we do not find any location called "Kataf"in scriptures. It is reasonable to assume, though, that it is the language spoken in the "Isles of *Kiti'im*" (Yirmiyah 2:10, Yechezkel 27:6).
If so, we may propose the following suggestion. The prophet tells us in a number of places that when the Mashiach will come, 'Tarshish' and 'the far-away Isles' will learn the glory of Hashem, and they will come out to greet the Messiah (Yeshayah 66:19; Tehillim 72:10). Apparently, these distant locales have not even heard of the Jews' worship, and still staunchly serve their idols; however the time will come when they, too, will join us in the service of Hashem. This is why these particular languages were chosen to develop the theme of the omnipotence of Hashem.
This is not the only place in the writings of the Sages that a foreign language is introduced in order to exegetically explain a verse. It is interesting to note that in the other instances, it is equally clear why the Torah used a foreign word to get across that particular point.
For example, the Gemara in Shabbos 63b tells us of the verse "'Hen,' the fear of G-d is wisdom," that the word 'Hen' in this verse stems from the Greek 'Henos,' or '[The only] one.' Why does the Torah use a Greek word to describe the wisdom of the Torah? Because the Greeks were renowned for valuing wisdom (Bechoros 8b etc.). The Torah is therefore judging wisdom on Greek terms. It is saying that even by Greek standards -- and they know what wisdom is all about -- the only *true* wisdom is that of the Torah.
In a similar manner, the Gemara tells us that the word "[Pri Etz] *Hadar*" (Vayikra 23:40), which refers to the Esrog, stems from the Greek "Hydra," or water. The Esrog tree requires very frequent irrigation, unlike other trees. The Torah refers us to a Greek word when discussing beauty, another quality with which the Greek nation was obsessed.
In Shmot Raba 36:1, after quoting the verse (Tehillim 48:3) "[Yerushalayim is the] beautiful region ('Nof')," the Midrash explains it to mean that Yerushalayim is as beautiful asF a fully adorned bride, "for in Greek, the word for bride is 'Nymph'" When attributing beauty to Yerushalayim, or to the Jewish People (Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Tisa #18), the Torah does so on Greek terms. Even the Greeks must admit that this is true beauty.
We are taught that "studying Mishnayos" protects the Diaspora from harm and leads us to merit the Final Redemption. This is learned through reading a word in Hoshe'a 8:10 as Aramaic (Bava Batra 8a; Vayikra Raba 7:3). The Midrash goes so far as to say that it is referring to people learning Mishnayos *in Bavel* (the region where Aramaic was normally spoken). Bavel is the home of the Talmud Bavli, which meticulously analyzes every point of the Mishnah. Here, too, it is appropriate for a verse extolling the virtues of learning Mishnah, to do so in Aramaic!