Summary: Jewish people wore/wear the tefillin (or phylacteries) to remind them of their relationship to God. There are lessons from the tefillin for Christians as well.

1. Mendel’s Tefillin

As the Nazis forced Jews into the death camps in WWII, they stripped their captives of even their most meager possessions. The Tefillin were rare ans precious commodities in the camps.

Mendel’s Tefillin were confiscated as soon as he arrived at Auschwitz. Even in the demanding environment of the death camps, he wanted to fulfill the command to wear them. He used daily food rations to bribe a Polish camp worker to steal a pair of Tefillin for him. The plan worked but the gentile had inadvertently brought him two for the arm and none for the head. To acquire the head Tefillin he had to pay another day’s ration of food.

Secretly Mendel wore the Tefillin for a few minutes every day. He shared them with any man in the camp who wanted to obey the commandment. It was a risky thing to do. One day a Jewish man borrowed them and turned them over to a German guard.

Despite the risk, Mendel would greet arriving Jews through the barbed wire fence and ask if they had Tefillin. “Pass them to us,” he would say, “they will not let you keep them.” Finally, one of the new prisoners did just that.

Again Mendel wore his Tefillin a few minutes each day and made them available to any who would keep the commandment. Meanwhile he began to work on a second pair using scraps of leather that he collected around the camp. No one understood for even if he was able to get enough leather to construct the boxes and straps he would not have the parchments for the scriptures that went inside.

One day a camp guard noticed a man borrowing Mendel’s Tefillin. He ordered the entire barracks to gather in a circle around a fire. He demanded that the owner of the Tefillin step forward and toss them into the fire. Mendel stepped forward and threw the makeshift Tefillin into the flames. The German had no way of knowing that these were the decoy pair he had made for such an occasion.

Mendel and his co-conspirators were still passing the real ones around, taking turns keeping the commandment, even on the day Auschwitz was liberated. (Tefillin by Toby Janicki, pp. 4-6)

My question is, Why would people risk their lives for a few pieces of leather straps and two sealed leather cubes?

2. Midrash Tehillim 21 – R. Tanchuma

“The Messiah will come for no other purpose than to teach the nations of the earth 30 precepts; such as those of the booth, the palm-branch, and the Tefillin.”

3. Matthew 23.1-7

a. Coupled with Tzitzit/Tallit

b. Worn by Pharisees (made broad by plaiting instead of hanging the straps from the head)

c. Worn by Yeshua (Jesus)

1) Yeshua (Jesus) criticized the manner of wearing the Tefillin, not the wearing – similar to the act of almsgiving in Matthew 6.2

2) If he had not worn them, he would have been criticized by the same people who criticized the way he observed Sabbath.

4. Composition of the Tefillin:

Straps/Four-Chambered Boxes containing these scriptures:

Deuteronomy 6.4-9

Deuteronomy 11.13-21

Exodus 13.1-10


5. Commands:

9And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt. Exodus 13.9

16 It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt." Exodus 13.16

8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. Deuteronomy 6.8

18 "You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. Deuteronomy 11.18

Tefillin as a Memorial/Remembrance

During the 1600’s there was an Emperor in India by the name of Shah Jahan (the 5th Emperor during the Mughal Dynasty) and he was believed to have been descended from Tamerlane and Genghis Khan

Sometime during his reign, a rebel group in the southern portion of India sought to reject his rule and so he led an army to defeat them. In his entourage was his beloved wife – who was pregnant with their 14th child. Unfortunately she died while giving birth.

The Emperor was overwhelmed with grief and locked himself in his quarters where he neither ate nor drank for 3 days and kept the doors locked for a total of 9 days. When he emerged from his rooms, his raven black hair had turned completely white and his heart was filled with a dream.

He would build two memorials. One would be a tomb made of white marble for his wife’s body, and the other a tomb of black marble to be used for his burial chambers (which he never was never able to build).

The construction of her tomb required 22,000 men and women to labor 24 hours a day for 22 years. It was built of white marble decorated with 28 different kinds of gems. A sheet of pearls was spread over the coffin doors of solid silver opened onto the tomb and a solid gold railing surrounded the monument. (Readers Digest 11/83 p.161) Does anyone know the name of this tomb in India? The Taj Mahal

APPLY: The Taj Mahal is one of the most famous memorials in the world, and it is a memorial to death. The Shah didn’t build it while his wife lived… only after she died.

I. One Part Was Worn on the Head (Keep God & Word on Mind)

1. Between Eyes – Exodus 13.9

9And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt.

a. Lives are dictated by memory or lack of

1) [ Have you ever been part of the great “Here-after”? You get up from your chair, go into the next room and ask, “What am I here after?”

2) God urges us to remember – Ecclesiastes 12.1; Lord’s Supper

b. Eyes can help or hurt by what we “see”

1) Can cause us to live in the here and now – 10 spies; forbidden fruit

2) OR, we can look beyond to Yeshua (Jesus) – Hebrews 12.1

2. On Our Minds

a. Renew Minds via word – Romans 12.1-2

b. Symbol of revitalizing minds

c. Symbol of Torah Study

d. Symbolizes thoughts on the world to come

3. NOTE – Thoughts without action is of little value – James 2.17

II. One Part was Worn on the Arm (Action is required)

1. Actions are critical – Ecclesiastes 9.10 -- 10Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.; Colossians 3.23-24 – 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

2. Wrapped around weaker arm

a. Overcome weakness by help/strength of God

b. The place to Go is God

3. The Box is tilted to the heart – Deuteronomy 11.18

"You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

a. Warnings about our hearts – Numbers 15.39

You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.

1) Can follow emotion and not God

2) Heart can mislead (Jeremiah 17.9-10)

9The heart is deceitful above all things,

and desperately sick;

who can understand it?

10 "I the LORD search the heart

and test the mind,

to give every man according to his ways,

according to the fruit of his deeds."

b. Minds and hearts are to work together (Shema)

An Observation before closing – Satan always undermines the holy with deception:

• Mark of the Beast – Revelation 3.16-17; 14.8-9; 20.4*

4Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

• Same places as Tefillin of God

• Demonic reversal of Divine Practice – creates a counterfeit

• Tefillin may be the seal of God in Revelation 7.2

• May be how the Father’s name is written on foreheads in 14.1


Danger of Tefillin – Outward Only – Trust in article rather than God

George Faull noted in one of his newsletters a couple of years how easy it is to fall into this kind of thinking.

He said he’d heard that if you ate a Snickers Candy bar (that’s filled with calories) but then you drank a diet cola (with no calories)… the diet cola canceled out the calories of the candy bar.

How many of you believe that?

How many of you want to believe that? (Of course you do. We all do)

Faull went on to say that there are many Christians who reason that way about their faith.

• Telling lies is cancelled out by attending church.

• Being an abusive spouse can be balanced out by teaching Sunday School.

• Sleeping with your boyfriend/girlfriend you can cancel out that sin by giving a gift (sizable gift) to the church.

• Gossip is canceled when you give a check to support a missionary.

• When you refuse to forgiven an enemy you can cancel that out by being kind to the poor.

• If you hate someone who’s done you wrong… you cancel that out by loving Jesus.

• If you’re a mean spirited and critical person… you can cancel that by your love of worship

Silly isn’t it? But there are people who do things like that. They’ll put their faith in little boxes that they touch once in a while to assure themselves they’re being religious. But in the meantime, they dishonor the Jesus they say they love.

They build memorials to a dead faith.

I once read an illustration of a family who took this seriously. One night at a pizza parlor, they decided to use the minutes waiting for our food as a teaching time. The parents passed out an index card and pencil to each child and had them write down a new memory verse: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." (Col. 3:23).

Then they said, "Let’s watch this waitress and see what kind of worker she is. Do you think she is working with all her heart."

The kids never took their eyes off her. Their half whispered comments continued in a steady stream.

"She was sure nice about bringing extra napkins."

"She has to stand up all the time, and she’s not crabby."

The waitress never knew she was being scrutinized. By the end of the meal, the children not only had the Scripture nailed down, but also had done an on-site study of its meaning. (Dean and Grace Merrill in "Together at Home", Tyndale)