Why does the tefillin shel yad (hand) have 1 box and the shel rosh (head) have 4 boxes? I know it's because of the physical "structure", i.e. - the yad has 1 parchment and the rosh has 4 separate parchments, but why is it that way?

Even if it is "halacha l'Moshe M'Sinai" (if so, please cite source from Gemarah or other (I have trouble finding Moshe Rabbeinu, otherwise I'd ask him :-)) , is there some other explanation or what this symbolizes?

3 Answers 3


Menachos 34b uses various verses to prove the requirement. There are three mentions of "Totafos" (referring the the head-tefillin) in the Torah, two of which are written as though they were singular, and one of which is plural, thus a total of four. Alternatively, tot and fos each means two, and 2+2=4. The Gemarah there says that the arm-tefillin has one compartment, but does not bring a Scriptual source.

This article at Aish.com offers a reason: When one makes intellectual decisions (symbolized by the head) one needs to consider the full perspective, including all aspects. But when one acts, one must have a "singular clarity of purpose".

  • I understand that the plural ending in "totafot" makes 2. But how does the beginning of the word "tot" mean "two" as well?
    – DanF
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 19:12
  • @DanF "tot" is a word in the Katfi language; "fos" is Afriki.
    – Ypnypn
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 19:19
  • Wowee ... somewhat proof that the Torah was written in 70 languages! Imagine that! People understood it w/o having to use Stone or Art Scroll :-)
    – DanF
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 19:26
  • Where is Totafos written plural??
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 15:56
  • @DoubleAA See Tosafos for various explanations. One answer is that the initial vav of ולטוטפת (Shemos 13:16) is considered like it's at the end.
    – Ypnypn
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 16:17

I heard Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau shlit'a observe that with regards to the head, there are compartments -- different Jews can and should think differently. But with regards to the arm, action -- we all have to work together.


By having 4 separate compartments you are giving precedence to the Tefilin Shel Rosh. More information Shulchan aruch HaRav hilchos Teffilin 25:14

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