by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths
A Chabad shliach (messenger) in Germany was asked this question, and he sent it on to me: “What’s the point in putting tefillin on a Jew who has no idea of what he is doing, and to make him read a text which he does not understand? In many cases, the Jew just puts on tefillin to get away from you quick.”
I wrote: This is why I have them read the Shema in a language that they understand when I put tefillin on them. Then, I have them close their eyes, picture everyone they love, and ask G-d to bless them. Doing this brings their love and concern for others into the mitzvah. These kinds of things begin to bring emotional, and even spiritual, changes to their lives. I encourage them to begin a lifelong conversation with G-d. When they finish, I tell them, “Pray like that every day, even without tefillin. Talk to G-d.”
Even without doing anything but the mitzvah of tefillin itself, they are still rewarded for having done a mitzvah. The problem is that they are not aware of this reward, so just putting on tefillin usually does not change their lives. This is why it is so important to teach them to do more than just the bare minimum of the mitzvah. But this must be done in a way that they experience love or spiritual awareness, and not G-d forbid, an additional burden! It is extremely important that they have a warm experience when you introduce them to a mitzvah, or they will not want to do it again.
Also you, who are in a community where your presence is ongoing, should get their telephone number, or invite them for Shabbos, or somehow see to it that there is follow-up.
As it turned out, the same subject came up later that day when I was being interviewed for one of the Israeli newspapers. When I explained to the reporter some of the ways that I try to touch the spiritual being of the Jews when I put tefillin on them, he asked me if spirituality was something stressed by other people who work in outreach.
I said that, sadly, it is not. I went on to explain that even though these types of exercises (like picturing loved ones) are important for everyone, they are much more important when helping at the Kotel.
The Jews around the world who care enough to help others generally get to see the people they help more than once. They invite them for Shabbos, or they see them once a week when they make their “rounds.” They can maintain contact. I usually see my “customers” only once. I almost always have only three minutes to changes their lives. I have to do something right then and there.
The reporter stopped for a moment and then said, “That’s an awesome responsibility!” He is a smart man. He summed up the urgency of helping others.
Oh, what did the shliach in Germany do with my answer?
He wrote, “Your email made me get my tefillin and go to work. Pictured here are two friends who met again today for the first time in 18 years! They served in the Red Russian Navy as officers. I asked them if they would have believed me if I would have told them in 1952 that one day they would meet in Germany and put on tefillin? They just laughed.”
We should look for other Jews to help because of our love for them. But if, for some reason, you have not yet come to that love, then you can do it because you are obligated. “If I am only for myself, what am I?”[i]
[i] Avoth 1:12, and “Jews are responsible for one another (areivin zeh ba-zeh)." (Shavuot 39a)