Tefillin: the seal of love as strong as death

I mentioned in “God in Victor Frankl’s Logotherapy” that Frankl put on his Tefillin (phylacteries) every day. The Tefillin consists of two little back boxes (batim, plural of bayit “house”) each containing four sets Torah passages. The head bayit “house” (bayit shel rosh) has four separate compartments, one for each scroll, while the hand bayit (bayit shel yad) consists of only one compartment containing one scroll on which are written all four passages contained on the four separate scrolls in the head bayit. The head bayit is strapped just above the forehead (the cerebrum) and the other is attached to the left arm, which is placed near the heart.

The first verse in the Tefillin is from the Sh’ma in which (the rabbis say) Hashem commanded the wearing of the Tefillin. Here is the Sh’ma, the holiest verse in the Torah containing the holiest two commandments (mitzvot), (Deuteronomy, 4 – 5):

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates. (My emphasis).

Verse 8 refers to the Tefillin, and verse 9 to the Mezuzah, which I described in “Last will and Testament”.

Orthodox” (and “Conservative”) Jews maintain that verse 8, “tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” is closely connected to Song of Songs 8:6a, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. Frankl quotes this verse is his “Man’s search for meaning” (p. 50):

I did not know whether my wife was alive, and I had no means of finding out (during all my prison life there was no outgoing or incoming mail); but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need for me to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I would still have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of her image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. “Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.” (My emphasis).

Here is the passage in which “Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death” appears.

5 Who is this coming up from the desert
leaning on her lover?
Under the apple tree I roused you;
there your mother conceived you,
there she who was in labor gave you birth.

6 Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death,

its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.

7 Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.

Reconstructionist” and “Reform Jews” do not wear Tefillin because they don’t believe that Deuteronomy 6:8 “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” is meant literally; consequently, they also do not believe that Song of Songs 5:8 Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm” has anything to do with sealing the Torah in your hearts. For Reconstructionist and Reform Jews – and many modern Christians – the Song of Songs is read literally; it’s about love between a man and a woman.

Frankl lies between the ‘fish’ of Jewish Orthodoxy and the ‘flesh’ of Jewish Reconstructionism; he puts on Tefillin (Orthodoxy) but does it not because he wants to “contemplate” (his term in his quote above) the Holy One of Israel but the image of his absent wife. Frankl’s book is about loving – not loving yourself, but the other.

The Teffilin in the Torah is a command from God to build Him – who is both “Other” and “Husband” (Isaiah 62:5 -“And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over you”) – a bayit and to guard it close to one’s mind and heart. Frankl’s Tefillin, in contrast, seems to serve a different purpose: he has “reconstructed” and built himself another kind of bayit in which he binds himself with the cords of the Tefillin to the image of his beloved and seals himself up with a “love as strong as death” (Song of Songs 6:8b) within a bayit that no one can touch.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many bayits; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2).

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