The four Torah portions that are placed within the tefillin of the head are perceived as alluding to the sefirot chochma, bina, gedula (referring to chesed), and gevura, whereas the four portions in the tefillin of the arm, allude to the sefirot tiferet, netzach, hod, and yesod. The tefillin on the head belong to the sefira keter, meaning "crown", which presides over the sefirot mentioned, whereas the four portions in the tefillin of the arm relate to the lowest of the sefirot, malchut. Jacob… is perceived as putting on tefillin in the celestial regions…

Jacob, by dint of having achieved a degree of tikun, spiritual repair work, after the damage caused to the universe by Adam, is perceived as putting on tefillin in the celestial regions, i.e. "wearing" tiferet. The fact that the tefillin are made of leather is a reminder of the leather garments G‑d made for man after he forfeited the garments of light. It is due to Jacob's spiritual accomplishments that wearing tefillin made of leather has become a mark of distinction rather than a reminder of man's fall from grace. The 12 stitches needed to sew together the "housings" of the tefillin are an allusion to the assistance Jacob received from his twelve sons in performing that spiritual repair work. G‑d's wrapping tefillin can therefore be understood as G‑d donning the tiferet which Jacob had attained

The verse in our parasha which tells us that Jacob bowed at the head of the bed is an allusion to the tefillin of the head; Jacob's extension, Joseph and his brothers, are the allusion to the tefillin of the hand.

When Jacob crossed his hands (Gen. 48:14) while blessing Joseph's sons, he took a cue from the manner in which we don the tefillin. The commentators have difficulty with the word ki in the verse. Rabbi Bachya, for instance, understands the word in the same sense as it is used in such verses as "Forgive us our Father, 'although/ki' I have sinned against You."

[The author does not think there is a need for translating the word "ki" as "although". He believes the word is translated perfectly adequately as "for".]

Jacob wanted to give some distinction to Ephraim over Menashe; he also wanted to accord honor to Menashe, however, for he was the firstborn. He acted very wisely in granting greatness to both sons. This is why he did not want Ephraim placed on his right side but preferred to cross his hands. Had he had Ephraim moved to his left side, this could have been interpreted as his having denigrated Menashe.

Although the tefillin are placed on the left arm, this does not denigrate the right arm; it is required in order that the tefillin may be placed on the left arm. The right hand is the hand with which both the writing of the portions of Torah within the tefillin and the tying of the knots is performed. The right hand thus has in no way been denigrated when it comes to the performance of the mitzvah of tefillin. …the whole Torah is compared to tefillin

When Isaiah (49:3) quotes G‑d as saying of Israel, "Israel, you, in whom I glory" (in Hebrew "Yisrael asherb'cha etpa'er"), the reference may well be to Jacob in his capacity of Yisrael Saba who dons the tefillin of the head. Those tefillin are known as "glorious headdress" (in Hebrew, "pa'er") - as is well known. I have already mentioned that the whole Torah is compared to tefillin. Torah itself is subsumed in the word "et" (spelled aleph-tav, meaning "to") meaning, which the Talmud in Shabbat 55 understands as referring to people who observe Torah from aleph to tav [i.e. from the first letter of the aleph-bet to the last]. The extra letters et (aleph, tav) in "etpa'er" refer to such people.

We may be able to answer a question raised in the Zohar (on Genesis 49:25) where Jacob in his blessing for Joseph says, "The G‑d of your father who helps you, and G‑d (in Hebrew, "ve'et Sha-dai") who blesses you." The Zohar questions why the Torah wrote "ve'et Sha-dai"instead of "ve-el Sha-dai". According to our approach, the answer is simply that Jacob indicated that Joseph, just like his father, also has a part in the mitzvah of tefillin, albeit in his capacity as an extension of his father. Therefore, Joseph's part in that mitzvah is the tefillin which are worn on the arm, and which feature the letters of the divine name "Sha-dai" in the manner in which the strap is wound around the hand and the knot near the housing.

[Getting back to the number of stitches used to stitch together the tefillin, the author had stated elsewhere that the number of tribes is usually 12.] When we include Levi and the two sons of Joseph it [the number of tribes] is 14. When we subtract the two tribes [from the original 12], described as "malka" and "shimsha", who were designated as heads of Zion and Jerusalem respectively, there are only ten tribes, corresponding to the Ten Commandments.

The twelve tribes which usually represent the number of sections the land of Israel was divided into, also represent the number of divisions of the celestial counterpart of the Holy Land down here, as described in Ezekiel. The division into ten, twelve or fourteen respectively also occurs in other crucial contexts, even at the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. The reason there were two tablets was to distinguish between the Written and the Oral law…

All of Israel heard the Ten Commandments in one single phrase without punctuation. G‑d repeated the first two commandments so that they could be comprehended by everybody word by word. This makes a total of twelve that every Israelite heard from G‑d directly. This, in turn, corresponds to the twelve tribes, two of which were allocated special functions, as we have mentioned. When you add the fact that the commandments were inscribed on two tablets you have the number 14. This also corresponds to the fact that the twelve tribes had extensions, in Hebrew "toldot" (which also means "generations"), i.e. the sons of Joseph. The reason there were two tablets was to distinguish between the written and the oral law. The number fourteen symbolizes the "strong hand" or "yad (which has a numerical value of 14) hachzaka" of Moses, who was the recipient of the Torah (cf. last verse in the Torah).

The reason that these numbers need to be found in the construction of the tefillin is the statement of the Talmud (Kidushin 35) based on the verse "so that the Torah of G‑d will be in your mouth", that the entire Torah is compared to tefillin. (Exodus 13:9)

Originally it was customary to make twelve stitches when sewing together the upper and lower parts of the housing of the tefillin. This corresponds to the twelve tribes. Maimonides allows for either 10 or 14 stitches. (Hilchot Tefillin 3:10) The Arizal noted that there were different customs in this matter. Jews from Italy, Spain, North Africa and Eastern Europe had different customs in that regard. Since there are twelve gates in the Heavens corresponding to the twelve tribes, the Arizal did not see any reason why these customs could not co-exist. This is all based on Ezekiel. Every tribe's prayer is perceived as ascending to heaven via his particular liturgy, though they all pray to the same G‑d. Everybody has to retain his particular custom since nowadays we do not know who belongs to which tribe. Concerning the liturgical details found in the Talmud, however, these are equally valid for all the tribes.

When the Torah stresses that Jacob blessed each of his sons according to his particular blessing, (see Gen. 49:28) there is no doubt that this is meant to emphasize that despite the fact that all the sons together were extensions of Jacob, there were individual differences and that these individual differences were worth preserving.

[Translated and adapted by Eliyahu Munk.]