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letotafos; why speak African? [tefillin]

Written by d fine

At the end of Bo we are told about tefillin. They are to be ‘as a sign on your arm and letotafos between your eyes’ (13;16).

Rashi quotes that ‘letotafos’ means ‘four’ in African, and so the Torah is telling us that the tefillin shel rosh are to be made of four parts. But the question is [though each language does have a scent of lashon hakodesh] why did HaShem write a word in African in the Torah – and why especially regarding the tefillin shel rosh? (This was a question someone asked me). Perhaps one can suggest the follwing answer…The tefillin shel rosh and tefillin shel yad fulfil different roles. The shel yad are to be a private witness to our connection with HaShem; that’s why we cover it over with our shirt sleeves. But the gemarra tells us that the Tefillin shel Rosh is called ‘our glory’ because we show the other nations that we are HaShem’s Chosen People. (see Ramban on this pasuk) This is why the Torah speaks about the tefilin shel rosh in another language, to reflect that the tefillin shel rosh are to give a message to other nations.

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