As we continue reading in this week Torah portion, Miketz, about Joseph being named viceroy over Egypt to help save them from the coming famine, I am yet remembering Joseph adorned in his coat of many colors from his father, Jacob, and the great love that the coat represented as Joseph left home to embark on what would be an amazing life journey from lowly slave to the pinnacle of ruler over all of Egypt.
In this light, I was recently inspired by the work of Israeli artist, Arik Weiss. Arik takes the Jewish culture and commandments into the artistic realm in a unique way combining the ancient and the contemporary in ways that make you think about them anew.
I saw that Arik had done various works with tefillin making them white or even putting a button in the middle of the box that looks like the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
Immediately, when I saw Arik’s work with the tefillin, I thought about doing it in color. Almost like taking the old black and white photos of the past and transforming this mitzvah into terms that are colorful, modern, and alive once again for all Jews. Moreover, like the colorful coat that Jacob gave Joseph to wear, the mitzvah of tefillin that G-d gave us to wear is also filled with spiritual color and the love of Hashem.
This is in no way intended as sacrilegious or as trying to change our holy mitzvot. Rather it is an artistic attempt to see the tefillin in a new way that perhaps excites and bring Jews back to this important mitzvah.
From the age of thirteen, Jewish boys don the tefillin on weekdays (not on Shabbat or major Jewish holidays) on the left arm with the box facing the heart and on the forehead over the brain to indicate our complete devotion to G-d with both our hearts and minds.
Inside the boxes of the tefillin are critical Jewish prayers such as the Shema Yisrael where we proclaim the oneness of Hashem and our love and fear of Him. The wrapping of the bands of tefillin also spells out the letters of G-d’s holy divine name of שדי.
No one should go and change the color of the tefillin, but rather I hope you see the tefillin as I do with vibrance, life, and the spirit of the Jewish people to perform the mitzvot that G-d has commanded us with to make us holy and bring us closer to Him.
When I was in some fairly orthodox yeshivas as a teenager, and had some bad experiences there, unfortunately, I like many young Jews got turned off and even at one point stopped wearing my tefillin every day. But over time, as I continued to learn and grow as a person and as a Jew, I found much of my way back to Yiddishkeit and to wearing my holy tefillin with love and Joy. To me they are forever colorful and full of spiritual energy that are uplifting to me as I pray with them on for Hashem’s everlasting mercy and blessings for all of us.