by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths
I was helping someone with tefillin at the Kotel when, one of my friends asked me for help. He pointed to old English-speaking Jew who had just walked by with an Israeli.
He said, “You see that old guy and the Israeli? The Israeli is his tour guide. I tried to get him to put on tefillin, but he wouldn’t. The tour guide said that the old man is very stubborn, and that it’s best to leave him alone.”
I told my friend to call me when they were on their way out, and I went back to the man I was helping. A few minutes later he tugged my jacket and pointed to them leaving. I ran over and stood so I actually blocked the old man’s way.
“Come, put on tefillin,” I said with a huge, friendly smile.
“NO! Leave me alone.” He tried to step around me, but I gently moved in front of him again.
“Tell me something,” I said. “When’s the last time you put on tefillin?”
He smiled a small, sarcastic smile and said, “Seventy-four years ago! At my bar mitzvah; and I haven’t done it since, and I am not going to do it now, either!” he said.
“There was an old guy here just a couple of weeks ago who hadn’t put them on for 72 years,” I said, “and when I told him a story, he put them on. I told him about a friend of mine who was in the camps (holocaust), and that he even put tefillin on Jews inside the camp!”
I told this old man how that story got the other old man to put on tefillin, but he wasn’t sold. He definitely softened some, but he was not going to put them on.
Then, with genuine excitement, I said, “Look, if you put on tefillin, you can be a great blessing to the Jewish People! No one, no one here that I have ever heard of, has not put on tefillin since their bar mitzvah 74 years ago! If you put them on now, G-d is going to listen to whatever you say. You can give the entire Jewish People a blessing.”
As I spoke, I motioned for my friend to bring a chair and a pair of tefillin.
I said, “Here’s a chair. Sit down. It will only take one minute.”
“I have to go,” he insisted. “My wife is waiting for me.”
“She has waited for you all these years; she will wait one more minute,” I said.
He sat down, and I put the tefillin on him. The old guy actually remembered the beginning of the blessing. I helped him with the end of it and gently put the tefillin on him.
We said the first lines of the Shema, which he somehow remembered, and then I said, “Now, give the Jewish People a blessing. G-d is listening to you, and He will do whatever you say.
The old man lit up and loudly said, “G-d bless all of the Jewish People.”
I said, “And give a blessing to your family, too.”
“G-d bless my family,” he said. And then he gave a few more blessings.
We took pictures, and I took off the tefillin. I helped him up, and the man smiled like I have never seen anyone smile before. He was not only happy, he was filled with the special contentment that comes when you realize that you have truly been a blessing in the world.
He was from Austria. He actually saw that most evil man who ever lived, may his name be wiped out forever. His family fled to Jamaica in 1936, where they lived for most of his life. Here is an old, stubborn Jewish guy, whose love for his people is even greater than his old, stubborn heart.