Bind them as a sign upon your arm, and as totafos between your
Be’er Yosef: Rashi, citing the gemara,2 understands the word
totafos to be an amalgam of two words, each word meaning “two” in a foreign
language. While this provides a definition for an unusual word, it leaves us
trying to understand what it is about tefillin that the Torah wishes to
essentially describe as “two plus two.”
It would seem that the Torah wishes to underscore that tefillin incorporate
two primary themes, each one finding expression in the different Torah
portions they incorporate. The two themes are emunah, and the exodus from
These two themes were already identified in the time of the rishonim as
prominent in the four parshios of the tefillin. Ramban speaks of
remembering the exodus, and remembering the obligation of mitzvos, including
the mitzvah of emunah itself, and the consequences of obeying and disobeying
the law. Rabbenu Yonah speaks more pithily of recognizing Hashem’s Oneness
and of the exodus.
Probing a bit further, we can see that the four parshios of tefillin can be
equally grouped around the two principal themes. Shema and ve-haya im
shamo’a (or what we often refer to as the first two sections of the Shema)
both deal with belief in Hashem, and the need to worship Him alone.
Effectively, these two parshios concern themselves with the first,
quintessential belief of Judaism – the fact of Hashem’s existence and Unity.
The other two parshios – kadesh and ve-haya ki yeviacha – invoke our belief
in the exodus from Egypt.
With this in place, we can clear up a mystery of the siddur. In the prayer
recited before putting on tefillin, we mention each of the four parshios.
The order we use, however, is highly unusual. This order does not follow the
order of their appearance in the Torah. Neither does it follow the way they
are positioned in the tefillin – neither according to Rashi, nor Rabbenu
Tam, neither when you look at them from left to right, nor from right to
According to our analysis, however, the order is eminently sensible. Of the
two principles represented in the tefillin, that of emunah must be seen as
fundamental and primary. The entire Torah stands on the reality of Hashem’s
existence. Shema and ve-haya im shamo’a, the two sections that speak of
Hashem’s existence and Oneness, can be thought of as two strong support
documents for this principle. Once this is established, we can turn to
tributary demands, like following all His dictates.
Kadesh and ve-haya ki yeviacha support the principle of obeying His
mitzvos. Taken together with the first two parshios – and precisely in the
order that they are listed in the siddur - they
1. Based on Be’er Yosef, Devarim 6:8
2. Sanhedrin 4B