By Reb Gutman Locks
Three men at the tefillin stand tried to get this tourist from New Jersey to say, “Yes.” He pushed past them, smiling, saying “No!” I jumped in front of him, blocking his way. I gently grabbed his arm, “Come, you will have a good time, I promise.”
Big smile… but still, “No.”
It will be the highlight of your trip. I promise.” He began to soften a little. “Come, we will take your Jewish blood pressure.”
“You should be on television,” he said.
“I am on television,” I said.
“You’re funny. You should be a comedian.”
“I am a comedian.” I kept gently pulling until he gave up.
I put the tefillin on him, and kept talking to him to make sure that he wouldn’t run away. He actually knew a couple of the beginning words to the blessing. (All of the blessings begin with the same words.) I complemented him on knowing that much, and joked with him.
I gave him the Shema to read in English. He read it out loud, very clearly, word for word. When he finished, I explained that doing a mitzvah opens a spiritual door for the person who does it, and to go through that door he should close his eyes, picture his loved ones, one at a time with light on their faces and smiling, and ask G-d to bless them. He closed his eyes, and started to cry.
He prayed like that for some time, tears on his cheek the entire time, biting his lip. I took him to stand right by the Kotel. I told him to be sure to thank G-d for all the good that He has given him. He bit his lips the entire time, tears still ran from his eyes as he stood there praying.
When he finished, I asked him why he was crying. He said that he has a son who has cerebral palsy.
“Oh, how sad” I said.
He said, “It has been a blessing in disguise. He has such a wonderful sense of humor. Within five minutes after he comes into a room, everyone in the room will be laughing.”
He fought back tears while he spoke.
I took the tefillin off, and he told me that he was 72 years old and had never put on tefillin before. With his eyes still tearing, he put an arm around me, and said, “You have no idea what a big mitzvah you just did.” And he kissed me.
He walked away, and I ran after the next one, “Come, put on tefillin. Come I will help you.” One after the other… Jew after Jew… trying to help them to open their hearts, and at least take a peek at what is really here.