Parashat Ekeb: G-d’s Eternal Love for His Nation
In the prophecy read as the Haftara for Parashat Ekeb, G-d assures Beneh Yisrael that despite the Hurban (destruction), and His having banished them into exile, He has not forgotten them and will never forsake them.
He proclaims, "Hen Al Kapayim Hakotich, Homotayich Negdi Tamid" – "Indeed, I have engraved you upon the hand; your walls are opposite Me, always" (Yeshayahu 49:16). G-d says that the fallen walls of Jerusalem are in front of Him at all times, as though their picture is engraved upon His hands, such that they never leave His view.
The Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909), in his Birkat Haim commentary to the Haftarot, cites a Kabbalistic tradition explaining this verse as an allusion to the Misva of Tefillin. As we know, we wear both the Tefillin Shel Rosh on the head, and the Tefillin Shel Yad on the arm. The Tefillin Shel Rosh is left exposed on the head, where it can be seen by all, whereas the Tefillin Shel Yad is generally concealed, and covered by a shirt slave. Symbolically, these two Tefillin represent two different conditions of our relationship with Hashem. The visible Tefillin Shel Rosh signifies the state of what is called "Shechina Be’galya" – when G-d’s presence is revealed and readily visible. In the times of the Bet Ha’mikdash, the Shechina resided there and was palpably felt, and this reality is represented by the exposed Tefillin Shel Rosh. The Tefillin Shel Yad, by contrast, expresses our nation’s experience in exile, when we do not feel G-d’s presence, when He is distant and concealed.
However, the Kabbalists teach, there is one part of the Tefillin Shel Yad which is left exposed – the wrappings around the hand and finger. These wrappings signify the close bond between us and Hashem which remains even in our state of exile. Even when G-d seems distant, when we do not feel His closeness and love, we still know with certainty that He accompanies us and that our special bond with Him endures. And so even the Tefillin Shel Yad, which symbolizes our state of exile and the concealment of our relationship with Hashem, has an element of "revelation," representing our firm belief that G-d loves us even in our current condition.
This is why it is customary when wrapping the Tefillin Shel Yad around the finger to recite the verses of "Ve’erastich" (Hoshea 2:21-22), which compare the relationship between us and G-d to the bond between a bride and groom. These wrappings signify our eternal, unbreakable bond with Hashem which remains intact even in our state of exile, just as a bride and groom make a commitment to remain devoted to one another under all circumstances. Appropriately, as we wrap the Tefillin Shel Yad around our finger, we recite these verses and reflect upon the special nature of this relationship.
This, then, is the meaning of the verse in our Haftara – "Indeed, I have engraved you upon the hand." Hashem refers here to the wrappings of the Tefillin Shel Yad on the hand, which express His everlasting bond with Am Yisrael, which remains intact even in periods of exile.
The Ben Ish Hai adds that the word "Hakotich" ("I have engraved you") is used in this verse as a reference to the verse in the Book of Shemot (13:10) which says in regard to the Misva of Tefillin, "Ve’shamarta Et Ha’huka Ha’zot" – "You shall observe this statute." The obligation of Tefillin there is called a "Huka," and so here, in this prophecy, G-d proclaims, "Hen Al Kapayim Hakotich" – that the "Huka" of Tefillin is upon the hand, signifying His everlasting bond with us which will never be broken, and which will eventually be once again revealed and readily visible to the entire world in the rebuilt Bet Ha’mikdash, speedily and in our days, Amen.