Hiddur Mitzvah and the Purchase of Tefillin and Mezuzos

The range of prices of tefillin and mezuzos bewilders many people. They assume that’kosher is kosher’, meaning that tefillin and mezuzos are either kosher or they are not. They are unsure why they should spend more (if they can afford to) on tefillin and mezuzos than what it costs to get kosher tefillin or a kosher mezuzah. I would like to explain why I think people should go the extra distance and purchase the best tefillin and mezuzos that they can afford. First, hiddur mitzvah,  the pursuit of excellence in the performance of a mitzvah is a Torah concept. The Torah encourages us to spend time determining what constitutes a hiddur, and to extend ourselves within reason to fulfill the dictates of that hiddur. Secondly, their is a mitzvah of זה אלי ואנוהו. This mitzvah is not counted as one of the 613 mitzvos, rather it directs us to  beautify the ritual objects that we use for mitzvos. Making objects such as tefillin, mezuzos, esrog, lulav, shofar, megillah, and sefer torah, beautiful is an important concept which has its source in the Gemara. Third, there are many details in the letters which are supposed to be present, but their absence does not make them posel, invalid. The writing is still kosher, but the halacha often has a clear preference for doing something a certain way. Many soferim chose not to pay attention to every detail in the beauty and halachos of the letters. By skipping some, and sometimes even many details, a faster mezuzah can be written. A faster set of parshios can be written. Many soferim find their niche in writing less detail oriented writing. Not everyone who writes has the skill to write like a top sofer. The torah is detail oriented and encourages us to try to fulfill the details of tefillin and mezuzos to the best of our ability.

The letters of tefillin and mezuzos hint to certain things that can affect our lives. Sometimes these hints are just a light pen-stroke, a tiny line. A classic example would be the two taggin, crowns, on top of the letter lamed. The one on the left side is for din, judgment, and the one on the right side is for chesed, kindness. The one signifying kindness is supposed to be a drop taller than the one signafying judgment, but this takes more effort than what a sofer is willing to expend in less expensive mezuzos. Does this make it possel? No, but it doesn’t make it correct either.

When one takes into account the amount of time a person will spend using his tefillin, and the number of years he hopes to be using them, and if he considers the importance of the mitzvah itself, he will see that it makes sense to purchase tefillin that are kosher according to all the poskim. When it comes to the importance of the mitzvah I wold like quote words of the Shulchan Aruch and the dMishna Berura,”

שלחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן ל”ז גדול שכר מצות תפילין וכל מי שאינו מניחן הוא בכלל פושעי ישראל בגופן. משנה ברורה א: שכל המניחן מאריך ימים בעלם הזה שנאמר ד’ עליהם יחיו כלאמר אותם שמושאים שם ה’ עליהם בתפילין יחיו ומובטח שהוא בן עולם הבא ואין אש של גיהנם שולט בו וכל עונותיו נמחלין לו. טור בשם שמושא רבא

Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim simin 37: The reward for the mitzvah of tefillin is very great, and any person who does not wear them is considered of the ‘negligent of Israel with their bodies’. The Mishna Berura  adds that the anyone who wears tefillin will have his days lengthened in this world, as it says, “Hashem upon them, they shall live”, meaning, those who done Hashem’s name upon themselves through tefillin shall live, and is assured to be a “son of the next world’, and the fires of Gehinom will not rule over him, and all of his sins will be forgiven. The Tur and the Shimusha Rabba are the source for this halacha.

The Shulchan Aruch HaRav adds that the mitzvah of tefillin is the most important of all the  mitzvos since tefillin are compared to all the mitzvos of the torah, as it says in the parshios of tefillin, “למען תהיה תורת ה’ בפיך In order that the torah of Hashem should be in your mouth.

The Aruch HaShulchan advises us to spend money on this mitzvah in consideration of the importance of the mitzvah and the fact that they should be strong enough for a lifetime of use.

Some people feel that since nobody ever opens the tefillin and mezuzos to see them that there is no reason to spend extra money on making them beautiful. I feel that the words of the Shulchan Aruch, Mishna Berura, Shulchan Aruch HaRav, and Aruch HaShulchan, teach us that we should have high quality, beautiful, strong, and impeccably kosher tefillin.

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