Sunday, November 28th 2021   |



How early in the morning may one observe the Mitzvah of Tefillin? When may one first begin to recite the morning Shema? These questions have practical application for early risers, commuters, and travelers… and anyone inspired to fulfill these Mitzvot as soon as possible.

We may recite the Shema and strap on tefillin when there is sufficient sunlight “to recognize a friend with whom one is only somewhat acquainted” (see Berachot 9A, Shulchan Aruch O.H. 30:1, 58:1, Magen David ad. loc.)… and that, “from a distance of four cubits” (six feet or so). A very good or intimate friend one would recognize earlier, and from a greater distance; a stranger, by definition, one would not recognize even later, face to face, and in broad daylight! On this basis, Rabbinic authorities conclude that one may recite the Shema and put on Tefillin as early as fifty minutes before sunrise.

This provision of Jewish Law teaches us far more than how to manage a tight morning schedule. We cannot properly stand before God in prayer until we are able to see – truly see – another human being standing before us. We are not ready to bind on Tefillin – emblematic of Jewish ritual observance, faith, and piety – until we can appreciate the bonds of friendship.

Pray? First things first!

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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