Judaism is centered around zmanim. We say shehecheyanu vikeyemanu vehigiyanu l’ZMAN haze. The Hebrew calendar is careful about zmanin to the very second of when a holiday enters. Every year it seems that we cycle through the same process over again. The question arises of what is the point of repeating the same holidays and events at the same points throughout the Jewish year? Why go around in circles, what does that achieve, and why are we stuck in two dimensions for? It is interesting because Jews always took very seriously the way the universe operated. For instance Abraham was a master astrologer, he routinely studied the constellations. The Rashi on the first verse of the Torah asks why the Torah did not start with the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, which follows the cycle of the moon. The first Gemara questions the appropriate time to recite shema based on the position of the sun. It would seem to make sense that the routine circle we make every year with all of the holidays and festivals parallel the way in which the planets orbit the sun almost monotonously every year, hitting every point they did the previous year, but we would be horribly mistaken. The reason why is because the planets do not move in circles, they moves in spirals. Here is why:
It is commonly understood that the planets orbiting the sun move in a circular motion passing through all the points they did over and over again. But the problem with this image is that it doesn’t take into consideration the fact that the Sun moves tens of thousands of miles per hour in one direction and the planets follow suit. So the real image of the planets orbiting the sun should look as follows:
In this image, the sun is moving and planets are following the sun’s gravitational pull while also orbiting the sun at the same time. So instead of getting a monotonous circle, you are getting a spiral or a vortex. So the planets are not hitting the same point over and over again; they are hitting a new point that is parallel to a previous point. Our solar system is almost like a spiral that is moving forward. To me, service of Hashem is not to lather, rinse, and repeat. Rather, avodat Hashem offers us an opportunity of hitting a point at a different place, it offers a feeling of constant movement, consistent with the idea of halachah, which means movement. The points in my avoda are similar, but they are not the same, rather the new point is a leap forward.
So the idea of tefillin is similar because when I wrap the tefillin, I am not wrapping it around my arm on the same point, rather I create a vortex, a spiral and it is a reminder to me to constantly improve the way I see and perform my service of God. It’s not enough to be monotonous always passing through the same point over again. It must be the case that my avodah is a spiral forward. Tefillin is my expression that I refuse to be a robot, and I take upon myself bli neder to relate to my davening as such. May we be blessed with opportunities for growth in a forward direction!