Thursday, December 20, 2007

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The Right Word at the Right Time

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

One of the men who works at the Kotel tefillin booth tried to get an older man to put on tefillin. He refused. When he was asked, a hard look came on his face.

My friend asked, “When was the last time you put on tefillin?” The old man looked even harder. “Not since the Holocaust.” He looked back into those darkest years and his resistance to putting on tefillin grew even stronger.

My friend tried a line that he frequently uses, “But your father put on tefillin every day.” When he heard those words, something swept over his face. It softened. He looked back even deeper than the Holocaust and quietly said, “You’re right.” He rolled up his sleeve and put on tefillin for the first time in over 65 years.

All those years of hard blockage and encasement just fell away. They simply melted when he heard the right words at the right time. A good thought overcame an evil thought. “But your father used to put on tefillin every day.”

Do not be discouraged when you try to help a fellow Jew to do a mitzvah and he refuses. Each time brings him closer to the time when his outer husk will melt.

Today at the Kotel, three men in their mid-forties came over to the tefillin booth. One of them wanted to put on tefillin, one of them had already put them on, and the third man said that he did not put on tefillin.

After helping the one who wanted to put them on, I went over to the one who said that he did not put them on. He was from Russia but had been living in Israel for a number of years. I asked him why he did not put on tefillin. He said, “I have never put them on.”

“What! Then you have to today. It’s like your bar mitzvah.” I put my arm around him and with a big smile and hug, I pulled him over to the tefillin booth. He was totally cooperative. When he finished reading the prayers in Russian and praying for his family, I asked him if he had a camera. He smiled and very happily took out his camera.

“Yes,” he said, “Please take a picture of me with the tefillin on. I want to send it to my mother in Moscow.”

What’s the point of this story? That he had a warm, loving experience putting on tefillin? No. What we really learn from his story is why in his entire life, he had never put on tefillin.

Because no one had ever asked him. Oy!

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