“…Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev…said to God, “Your tefillin have fallen.”
God’s “Back” and Inter-Jewish Outreach
And I will take away My hand, and thou shalt see My back. [Exod 33:23] R. Hama b. Bizana said in the name of R. Simon the Pious: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Moses the knot in his tefillin [worn at the back of the head].
— Talmud Berakhot 7a, Soncino* translation
[bracketed material appears in footnotes]
In his commentary on this verse, Rav Kook (Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, 1865-1935, first Chief Rabbi of Palestine) notes: “The knot symbolizes an understanding that relates to the abilities of the one contemplating, so that he may grasp it and utilize it…Knowledge of God’s reality according to our limited understanding, on the other hand, is God’s ‘back.'”
…The verse in God’s tefillin reads, “Who is like Thy people, one people on earth?” When the tefillin are accidentally dropped, we are obligated to pick them up and kiss them. Once, when Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev prayed, he said to God, “Your tefillin have fallen. Raise them up and kiss them.” The prayer is directed toward ourselves.
What can we do to raise up? We must engage in a serious program to mend the torn Jewish fabric. This means to reach out beyond the four cubits of our synagogues and our movements to Jews from other congregations and other movements — Conservative, Reconstructionst, Reform, and Orthodox. It means to use our havurot as circles of friendship to which other havurot of other movements are invited….place the problem of our estrangement on the common agenda. We must meet and talk and listen hard to each other….
–Harold M. Schulweis,
In God’s Mirror: Reflections and Essays. (Jersey City, NJ: Ktav, 2003), p.10
* Please see Source Materials for full citation and additional information.
The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.