By Rabbi Mendy Katz, Aleph’s director of military and prison outreach
The time has come for Lubavitchers to start doing Mivtzoim with our own. The focus of Mivtzoim has always been with non-religious Jews living outside of our communities. Times have changed and we now have to focus on our own communities as well.
First and foremost, we must put in more time, effort and much more Love and Attention towards those from our own communities who are no longer frum. We all know who they are but we chose to focus our outreach efforts towards strangers instead of our very own. Instead of just going down the block to ask our own neighbor (who we know is no longer frum) to put on Tefillin, we take a train to Manhattan to try to find a lost Jew. Of course, we have to keep on doing Mivtzoim with strangers but let’s focus on our own as well.
Most of the people who grew up frum, still have a love for Yiddishkeit and they are waiting for you to come and ask them to put on Tefillin. They would be so touched if you invited them to a Shabbos meal. Why do we ignore the spiritual needs of the Jews right under our nose to go and stop random people on the street to ask them if they are Jewish?
I grew up with Mivtzah Tefillin in my blood. My earliest childhood memories are going on Mivtzoim with my father on Lincoln Road in Miami. My father never left home without his Tefilin and never took no for an answer. Most times, he never even asked the person if he wanted to put on Tefillin. As soon as he knew the man Jewish, the Tefillin were already on his head. Plains, trains, buses, it did not matter, the Tefillin were always there for the ready.
I naturally followed in my father’s footsteps and would always take my Tefillin everywhere and always asked everyone to put on Tefillin. As I got older, I began to slack a little and did not always ask people everywhere. For example, I would not always ask people on planes to put on Tefillin.
Around ten years ago, I was at a weekend Bar Mitzvah in Colorado, and most of the people at the Bar Mitzvah were not frum. I spent Friday and Sunday putting on Tefillin with everyone and spent all Shabbos farbrenging with people trying to get them to commit to put on Tefillin more often.
On the way back from the Bar Mitzvah, I missed my flight by 2 minutes. I was stuck in the Denver airport for 12 hours without a morsel of kosher food. As soon as I turned around from the gate, I see a Jew who was at the same Bar Mitzvah all weekend. He was a 40-year-old Persian Jew who attended many bar mitzvahs in his family and community but has never put on Tefillin in his life. He also missed his flight and he put on Tefillin right there at Gate C42 in the Denver airport. It was clear to me that both of us had to miss our flights in order for him to put on Tefillin. I arranged for him to get his own pair of Tefillin and he also had his first Aliya later that week in New York City.
A few days later, on a Shabbos afternoon, my one-year-old daughter found her way out of the front door of a friend’s house and walked into the middle of a very busy street. A car slammed on the brakes and the driver put his car in park and picked up my daughter and saved her life. In appreciation of Hashem’s mercy, I decided to never leave home without my Tefillin and would always ask people to put on Tefillin whenever, whoever and however.
Recently, I started noticing that many of the people that I would assume put on Tefillin daily, actually do not.
First, I thought it was a fluke and it’s just people that are not really so frum even though they wear a yarmulke. Then I realized that there are those who are really frum but just forgot to put on Tefillin once or twice and it became normal for them to just forget to put on Tefillin. This has become a problem in the entire frum world, from the modern orthodox to Chabad to Satmar.
Over the last few months, I attended many frum weddings and I bring my Tefillin. People would laugh at me and say you are never going to find anyone to put on Tefillin at this wedding. At each one of these events, I find more and more people with yarmulkes and from Chassidish and litvish circles that did not put on Tefillin. I can get some 20 men to put on Tefillin at a frum wedding.
Even after this, I would still feel uncomfortable going over to a frum person I knew personally and see regularly to ask them if they had put on Tefillin that day (unless I knew for a fact that they do not always put on).
Last week, I went to a small simcha and brought my Tefillin. There were only Lubavitchers there, so with no one else to ask I turned to a full-fledged-yarmulke-wearing bearded guy. As it turns out, not only did he not put on Tefillin but he turned around to another person there and said you also did not put on Tefillin today. They both put on Tefilllin and have been doing it daily since.
Later that day, I went to another party with only frum people and I went around asking people if they has put on Tefillin. There was Litvish guy who was clearly uncomfortable with my question. On Sunday morning, I got a WhatsApp from an unknown number with a photo of a person wearing Tefillin. It was this guy who tracked down my name and number. In a voice note, he explained how our short conversation got him to realize that he can’t leave the house in the morning without putting on Tefillin. He said he really appreciated the fact that I gave him that wake-up call. Apparently, all it took was one short sincere conversation to get him back on track.
I am sure there are thousands of frum-looking Jewish men who in your neighborhood or on your flight or in the same hotel that are quietly begging you to walk over to them and ask them if they put on Tefilin today. Please do not disappoint them, please do not disappoint their wives, their children, their parents. They are all counting on you –whoever you may be– to be the Shliach to get their son, father, husband to put on Tefillin.
Each and every one of us has friends, relatives, classmates that we know. Take an interest in their life and spiritual wellbeing. Ask how and if they put on Tefillin in the morning. After putting on Tefillin with them, you can encourage them to start prioritizing putting on Tefillin daily before they leave the house.
Boruch Hashem, Lubavitchers have been very successful in doing Mivtzoim with strangers. It is time we become successful in doing Mivtzoim with unzere (our own) as well. In honor of the Rebbe’s 120th birthday, it is time for every Lubavitcher (and especially Shluchim) to always carry Tefillin and offer it to every Jew you meet — including those with yarmulkas, family members, former classmates, and friends.
And if you are one of these frum people who has not been so careful with Tefillin, this is the time to make a hachlata (resolution) to put it on daily. It takes 5 minutes to put on Tefillin. Say the bracha and the full Shema. If you can do more, even better. But nothing should not be an option. Tefillin is your anchor connection to Hashem. Don’t drop your connection.