When Clothes Don’t Make the Man

It’s a trite saying that clothes do make the man, and trite sayings often have a ring of truth. Clothes can at least help make the man and that may be true of the phylacteries worn by some observant followers of Judaism. There may be a deeper truth for those who observe the commands of God yet look to His revelations expressed through His manifested self as Yeshua.

The Shema (Hebrew for listen or hear–Deu 6:4-9) says we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our strength. Many who practice Orthodox Judaism today wear phylacteries (Tefillin in Hebrew), at least during prayers. These are small leather boxes containing a portion of the Torah. They are worn in a strict interpretation of the Shema which says in verse 8: You shall bind them (the Words of Torah) as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. As I understand it, this injunction has been defined by the Talmud (recorded Rabinnic oral opinions of Torah) as the literal wearing of the phylacteries.

Yeshua (Jesus) in His earthly ministry often spoke of the “heart” of the Torah message. He saw beyond the legalistic observance of a particular passage to its practical application. For example, He said, paraphrased, “Torah says you shall not murder, but rather being angry with your brother without cause renders you liable for judgment—even calling your brother a fool.” Mat 5:21-22

I think it’s fair to say then that there is more to the directions of the Shema than to literally bind the word on your hand and between your eyes. In Yeshua’s theme of revealing the depth of an instruction, perhaps we could better say, “Everything I turn my hand to and every thought that goes through my mind will be guided by and be a demonstration of my love for God.”

Referring back to the first verse of Torah–the use of my hand is symbolic of my strength. The use of my mind is symbolic of my soul. Wearing the phylactery between the eyes implies the mind, but the Shema goes further and adjures loving God with the soul which is defined as being the mind, will and emotions. If we bring our emotions into the “love” formula of loving God we start coming very close to Yeshua’s speaking of the root of murder as anger and name calling. You can’t call your brother a fool while loving God. The apostle John further underlines this truth:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:20-21

The boxes strapped to your hand and forehead can serve as reminders, but the practice of the Shema, Yeshua-style, would be evidenced, daily, 24/7 in our (my) every thought, action, deed and especially spoken word. How many things do we do (wear) that would give the impression from outward appearance that may not be a true representation of the love of God? We have to be careful we’re not relying on our “clothes” to make the man!

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