By Michoel Yaroslavsky
Before I was Torah-observant, a Chabad Rabbi at the Kotel asked me to wrap tefillin. I accepted without hesitation. He offered to let me put it on myself, but, at the time, I had no idea how to. I watched as he placed a black box onto my arm and told me to recite a blessing. He then took out another box, kissed it, and placed it on my head, centering it between my eyes. He instructed me to recite the holy Shema.
After reciting the Shema, I asked if I could keep it on and bring it to the Wall. He happily agreed. Even though I considered myself an atheist, I couldn’t miss out on an opportunity to speak to G-d. I poured my heart out at the Wall and asked Hashem to help me in all my endeavors. I felt tremendously uplifted from the entire experience.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to represent my yeshiva, Hadar HaTorah at the annual Kinus of Chabad on Campus Shluchim held in New Jersey. Besides meeting Shluchim, I wasn’t sure what else to expect from the event. I didn’t even bring Tefillin, which I usually take with me anywhere I go.
When we found our table, I was surprised to find many Zionist groups were represented nearby, some of which I had been a part of back in college. By Hashgacha Protis, our table was placed in the middle of all these groups. I had a fantastic opportunity handed over to me.
I came up to one table, where a man was sitting alone. I introduced myself and asked him his name. He looked up and said, John. He said his family survived the Holocaust, and because of how important Eretz Yisroel was to him and his family, he decided to fight antisemitism on American campuses through his Zionist organization as he is a lawyer by profession.
I told him I could relate. As someone with family from the former Soviet Union, Eretz Yisroel has always been important to me. I asked John if he would put on Tefillin. He said, “Every Rabbi who’s ever asked me, I’ve said no, but I like you, so I will put it on.”
Fortunately, we were in the right venue to quickly find a pair of Tefillin. I put on Tefillin shel yad, and told him to recite the blessing. Then, just like the rabbi at the Kotel, I wrapped John’s arm, kissed the head Tefillin, and put it on his head.
Before saying Shema, I explained to John that this is the most important prayer for the Jewish People. Before Jews were thrown into the gas chambers, they would cry out Shema Yisroel, to tell G-d that they would never lose faith in Him.
John’s expression changed, and he told me that what I said was very touching because of what his family had endured. He then said Shema with me with incredible devotion.
After unraveling the straps on his arm and head, he told me that this was his first time wrapping Tefillin. I hadn’t even asked him if this was his first time since I assumed that an older man would have done it once before.
I told John that it was an incredibly emotional moment for me to be able to wrap Tefillin with him for the first time. It brought back my memory of when I wrapped at the Kotel, where I had first felt a deep connection to Hashem. I then proclaimed to John that the next time we saw each other, there would be no more hatred, only us, wrapping Tefillin, in Yerushalayim, with Moshiach very soon.
To learn more about Hadar Hatorah, visit www.hadarhatorah.org or call 718-735-0250.