real stories from the Western Wall by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths
A “reform” Jew walked up to the Kotel with his young son. I knew that he was reform from the brand-newtallesim (prayer shawls) that he had in his hand. They were about 12 inches wide. According to halacha(Jewish law), to qualify for tzitzis (Biblical fringes), a garment has to cover the majority of a man’s body, which means that a tallis has to be a lot wider than 12 inches.
I walked up to them and invited them to put on tefillin. The father said, “No, we are not going to do that.”
I tried a number of things to get him to agree, but he refused them all. Finally, trying to get rid of me, he said, “This morning was my son’s bar mitzvah, so we do not need to put on tefillin.”
I said to the son, “Oh, mazal tov. How wonderful! Did you put on tefillin this morning?”
He had not. I tried to convince the son, who was a lot softer than his father. Finally, the man asked his son if he wanted to do it. The boy really did not know what we were talking about, but maybe, out of curiosity, he nodded softly and said, “Alright.”
I put tefillin on them and explained in a loving way what tefillin are and why we put them on. I walked them to the Kotel and showed them how to pray for their loved ones. The father wanted them to put on their tallesim. Normally, I would have tried to talk him out of making a blessing on those tiny tallesim, but I could see that it would have really hurt his feelings, so I helped them to put them on.
They had a very good time. I stood behind them, where they could not see me and watched how the father taught his son to kiss his tzitzits. It felt very warm to see.
When they finished, they turned around, and the boy saw his mother standing on a chair looking over themechitza (screen that divides the men and women) and taking pictures of them. She was radiantly happy, and the boy loved seeing his mother like that.
I asked the boy if he had any questions about G-d, the Torah, or anything that I could explain to him. He thought for a minute, and then he asked me something that he must recently have been asked, “Yes, I have a question,” he said. “What does it mean to be a Jew?”
I said, “Really, what it means to be a Jew is just that your mother is Jewish. This is why it is so important for you to marry a Jewish girl… so your children will be Jewish. But I think that you are really asking a different question. I think what you want to know is, ‘What is a Jew supposed to do?’”
I explained, “Jews are a unique people in the world. For instance, even though only one out of 510 people in the world is Jewish, one out of four Noble Prize winners is Jewish. This shows that Jews were given a large amount of intelligence. We were also given a large amount of kindness. These are two things that Jews were given extra portions.”
“But what really makes our religion different than many other religions is that many other religions teach that in order to become spiritually successful, you have to withdraw from the world. The Torah teaches to become spiritually successful, we have to go out into the world and elevate it. We have to make the world a better place.” When he heard this he smiled widely. It really touched his heart. It was what he wanted to hear.
There are so many things that we can learn from this story, but perhaps the most important one is that the father absolutely refused to put on tefillin. It was something repulsive in his eyes, and he was teaching this repulsiveness to his young son. But when he was shown how to put them on in a loving way, both he and his son had a wonderful, even spiritual, time. He didn’t want to take them off!
I am not blaming the father. He was just reflecting what he had been taught about the strictness of “Jewish law.” But, someone out there is doing something wrong if a Jewish man and his bar mitzvah boy would never have put on tefillin in their lives unless that false way of learning Torah was corrected.
Again, I am asking you. Do you know any other fathers and sons like this? It is such a sad waste for these Jews not to have the advantage doing of this mitzvah. Is there any way that you can help them?
Reb Akiva adds…
On Gimmel Tammuz, the day of the elevation of the Lubavitcher Rebbe from this physical world, there is no better question to ask or responsibility to fulfill. The Rebbe never focused on his chassidim, he focused on all Jews. While it was primarily his chassidim that were motivated to go out and do, now it’s time for all of us.