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Every day, when donning my tefillin, I (being Ashkenazic) recite two b'rachos, the first one of which is אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וצונו להניח תפלין, said whilst I tie down the shel yad onto my bicep with the strap.

But now I wonder: Isn't the mitzva of tefillin written as "וקשרתם לאות על ידך", in which case the mitzva isn't to place it on the arm (להניח), but rather to tie it on (לקשור). Shouldn't the b'racha reflect that? Shouldn't it be "אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וצונו לקשור תפלין", or "על קשירת תפלין"?

And, assuming there is a reason why it really should be להניח תפלין, why do we still say the b'racha while tying the shel yad; why not while placing the shel yad in the proper position on our arms, as this is what is implied by "להניח תפלין"?

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This is one of those awesome questions that you don't realize is staring you in the face until someone's observant enough to point it out. –  Isaac Moses Jun 21 '11 at 18:50
    
@IsaacMoses, Thanks. This kind of hit me this morning as I was putting on tefillin, and I wondered why I had never questioned it before. –  jake Jun 21 '11 at 19:07
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2 Answers

A number of sources are discussed here:

http://www.soferstam.co.il/content.aspx?PageId=99&lang=he

But the idea that the mitzvah is not "to tie" the tefillin, rather that the tefillin should "be tied" to the arm, and therefore the placing of the tefillin on the arm (in such a way that they can "be tied" is the essence of the mitzvah)

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

After some searching, I have found that the Bayis Chadash (OC 25:5) asks this question, and responds that the idea of the mitzva is for the tefillin to be placed upon the arm for a period of time (ideally, the entire day). If one were to say "לקשור תפלין", that would imply that simply tying them on and immediately taking them off would fulfill the mitzva, which is apparently false.

However, the reason the b'racha is made before the tying and not before the placement on the arm is discussed in Beis Yosef (OC 25:8; in the link above). A b'racha must be said, in general, before fulfilling a mitzva (עובר לעשייתן). Here, the "action" of the mitzva (or, in light of the above ב"ח, the action that begins the mitzva) is the tying of them onto the arm (קשירתן זו היא עשייתן), as just having the tefillin sitting on the arm without them being tied fulfills no mitzva. Thus, the b'racha should be said immediately before tying on the tefillin, as reciting it before the placement is too far in advance.

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It sounds like the placement on the arm being the main fulfillment is yet another part of the definition of this mitzva that's a Halacha LeMoshe MiSinai, and that every time we say the blessing, we're reaffirming that. –  Isaac Moses Jun 21 '11 at 20:42
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