When I wear tefillin it makes imprints; imprints on my body and imprints on my heart and my mind.
The leather straps, wrapped firmly around my arm and hand, when removed leave behind lines – a debossed circuitous path from my bicep to my fingers. These bodily imprints are real – easy to see and easy to feel – yet temporary. They disappear slowly until my arm is once again just an arm, unmarked and seemingly unaffected.
My prayers, the words I say while adorned with these odd leather boxes that themselves contain other words, are not much different. I express them firmly and once said they leave behind thoughts and feelings, circuitous ruminations from mind to heart, but they too are temporary. They also disappear slowly until my heart is just a heart, unmarked and seemingly unaffected.
It’s no wonder that the rabbis legislated the daily application of these straps accompanied with the daily repetition of these words. Their imprints, no matter how tightly wound and how fervently expressed are not as enduring as perhaps we would like them to be. Our prayers, in order to make their mark, to be internalized and affective, must be repeated and exercised constantly – daily.
But what about the imprints on our bodies, hearts and minds – our nations even – that we wish would disappear; the marks that stubbornly endure, as if tattooed to our flesh and souls, despite our attempts to ignore them or to chase them away…what about them? We all live with such imprints, and most of us, at one time or another, believe we can escape them. Perhaps these imprints, though, these traumas and scars, are actually truths – facts – that simply cannot be contradicted or chased away, only wrestled with, accepted and learned from.
“Goodness and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs out of the earth; and righteousness hath looked down from heaven,” declares the Psalmist (Psalms 85:11-12).
חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ׃
אֱמֶת מֵאֶרֶץ תִּצְמָח וְצֶדֶק מִשָּׁמַיִם נִשְׁקָף׃
Our truths can be painful, but perhaps it is only through these truths that we can learn goodness, and perhaps only when we learn goodness can we most wholeheartedly pursue righteousness and experience peace.