by Reb Gutman Locks
Just as I arrived at the tefillin stand yesterday, Shmuli pointed to a group of American tourists and said, “One put on tefillin in the morning, but the rest refuse. It’s a father and his three sons. One of the sons is in the yeshiva here and said that last year when he was here with his younger brother, you made his brother promise to marry only a Jewish girl. But the other three won’t put on tefillin. The father is really stubborn.”
I walked over and told the father to give his son a blessing. He didn’t want to, but I took his hand and put it on his oldest son’s head. I had him repeat the words of the blessing, but when I told him to say out loud what he wanted G-d to give the boy, he wouldn’t cooperate.
“G-d knows what I want,” he said.
I tried to explain that our words form a vessel that Hashem fills, but he wouldn’t cooperate. I had him bless his other two sons, and this time he did say that he wanted them to have happiness and health. I made him add, “Tell them that they have to marry Jewish girls.” He reluctantly agreed.
I told the boys why it is so important to marry a Jewish girl, and that their life work should be trying to make the world a better place. I said, “If you will spend your life doing these things, you will have a happy life.”
I pulled the boys in and put tefillin on them, but still the father refused. When I reached for his arm, he walked away from me. I finally asked, “Why are you not doing this? It’s a good thing for everyone.”
He wouldn’t answer, but his tour guide said, “I’ll tell you why, because his father is a holocaust survivor, and he doesn’t want anything to do with Judaism.”
I said, “Holocaust? Let me tell you a story about the holocaust. I quickly told him Leibel Zisman’s story, how as a thirteen-year-old boy he snuck his tefillin into the Death Camp, and even though he was beaten bloody and unconscious for handing his tefillin out through the bars of his barrack’s window, still, when another Jew came and asked to use his tefillin, he handed them through the bars again.
I said, “If that thirteen-year-old boy could risk being beaten to death by a nazi bastard to lend his tefillin to help another Jew, you can put your arm out to put them on!” I gently pulled his arm and this time he did not resist.
I asked, “How many Jews do you think there are in the world?”
“I don’t know, maybe a few million.”
“There is only one Jew in the entire world,” I told him. “The Jewish People are all one, and each of us has a small portion of the one body…, and right now, by you putting on tefillin, you are elevating the entire Jewish People. Not only that, but Leibel’s soul in Heaven just went up higher, too.”
I started to cry realizing just how true this was, and how I was able to give back a tiny bit to a man who gave so much to us.