Three mitzvos follow in close succession after Hashem’s threat of exile. Is there a relationship between these mitzvos and the exile? Rashi cites the Sifri that connects the juxtaposition in the following manner. We are enjoined to observe these commandments even in exile, so that when the redemption occurs, these mitzvos will not be foreign to us. There is a danger that when the Jewish People are in exile living in a non- Jewish environment, speaking the language of the host nation, adopting its customs and lifestyle, there is a real threat of assimilation. It is for this reason that we are to distinguish ourselves as a separate nation by performing mitzvos while we are in exile. Rashi cites the pasuk in Yirmiyahu 31:20, “Set up signposts for yourself.” Surprisingly, the reason given here for continuing to perform the mitzvos of Tefillin, limud haTorah and Mezuzah in exile is to prevent them from being forgotten. In our journey throughout galus, exile, these mitzvos will serve as signposts, markers, to insure that we find our way back to Eretz Yisrael.
The question is obvious: are these mitzvos functional only in Eretz Yisrael and to be practiced in galus only so that they are not forgotten? What relationship is there between these mitzvos and Eretz Yisrael? While the Ramban says that, indeed, these mitzvos apply equally everywhere, they have greater significance in Eretz Yisrael because of its greater sanctity. The Ramban concludes by saying, “This Midrash contains a deep secret.” What is the Sifri teaching us?
Horav Shimon Schwab, z.l., explains that while these three mitzvos have no specific connection to Eretz Yisrael, they are not practiced in their ideal way when we are in galus. We practice them meanwhile as tziyunim, road markers, keeping us on course, until that special day when we will return to Eretz Yisrael with the advent of Moshiach.
The way we learn Torah sheh’b’al Peh, Oral Law, today is not the optimal way of doing so. Oral Law is supposed to be transmitted orally from teacher to student in the manner it was taught before Rabbeinu Hakadosh codified the Mishnah. He saw a crisis about to occur, and he did something about it. Ever since then, however, we have been studying Torah through the medium of seforim, written volumes. When Moshiach arrives, we will revert to the “old” system of studying from a rebbe. For now, Torah study from printed books is only a temporary measure, a marker to keep us on course for the day when the correct manner of learning Torah sheh’b’al Peh will be reintroduced.
Rav Schwab makes a noteworthy observation. The printing press, upon which the propagation of Torah among our people has depended heavily for the past 500 years, was invented by a German non-Jew named Gutenberg. This invention was truly a simple idea that had already been invented 1,000 years earlier in China, but had not reached Europe. It impacted Judaism in a manner that is indescribable, for without it Torah scholarship would practically have come to a standstill. Why did Hashem give this unparalleled zchus, merit, to a gentile? Why could not a Jew have been the father of the printing press?
The reason is that learning Torah sheh’b’al Peh from a written book is an emergency measure that was necessitated by the long galus in order to insure that Torah would not be forgotten. For the present, learning from a printed book is only a “road marker” which we are compelled to employ. This is not the ultimate destiny of the Oral Law. One day it will revert to the original. The gentile’s zchus will suffice for a “road marker.”
The mitzvah of Tefillin is also not practiced in the original designated manner. Originally, Tefillin were to be worn all day, at home as well as in our place of business. As a consequence of our galus environment, this devotion to Tefillin is no longer practical. Yet, we continue wearing the Tefillin for Shacharis, so that we maintain our “road marker” for that glorious day when we will once again wear our Tefillin all day long.
Mezuzah is also not practiced optimally. According to Halachah, a Mezuzah should be placed even on our city gates. B’shea’recha, your city gates, applies to a Jewish city in which every entranceway to the city, a street, a neighborhood should have a Mezuzah. For example, the Jaffa Gate in Yerushalayim needs a Mezuzah. Rav Schwab remembered seeing a Mezuzah on the gate to the old city of Rottenberg, Germany, where the Maharal lived. The mitzvah of Mezuzah was to be a public affair for the community – not just relegated to one’s private home. Accordingly, when Moshiach arrives, we will perform this mitzvah in the most advantageous manner. It, as well as the other mitzvos, will then appear to us as the natural progression of the mitzvah from its minimum observance, as observed in galus, to its fulfillment in the most optimum form.