Thursday, August 03, 2017


What If They Say, No!

   by Reb Gutman Locks

What If They Say, No!


Moshe B. asks:

      I'd appreciate some advice on dealing with the "I don't believe" (in Hashem) response

and rejection to an offer of putting on tefillin. 


Gutman's Response:

     Over half of the Jews we help with tefillin at the Kotel initially refuse. So how do we get them? Each time is different and has to be made to fit the Jew we are reaching out to. The more experienced you get the more you succeed.   

     Some of the things that I have found that have worked are;

     Do not ask them if they want to put on tefillin because they don't. Instead say, 'Come put on tefillin.'

     They often refuse so we respond with whatever we think will work, but to the one who says he does not believe, I answer. 'You don't need belief to do it. The Torah says, 'we will do it then we will understand'. Doing it brings the understanding,' and I gently pull their arm or bring the straps to their hand and see if they let me continue as they often do. "Assumed consent" is an old sales technique.

     A general rule is; we are not allowed to push, but we are allowed to pull.

    The important thing is that when you do get them to do the mitzvah that they have a positive experience and not just a dry repetition of words that they do not understand.

     Make sure that after they fulfill the physical mitzvah of wearing tefillin and saying the Shema that you try to open their hearts so they will come to love the mitzvah. The objective is not simply to get them to do the mitzvah but to 'get them," i.e. to bring them to want to do the mitzvah again.

     I use, "When you fulfill a commandment a time of favor comes. It's as if the Gate to Heaven opens and Hashem listens intently to your prayers. Close your eyes and picture everyone you love one at a time with light on their faces and smiling and ask G-d to bless them. Thank Him for all the good He has given you, and ask Him to protect the Jews in danger. Take a couple of minutes and talk to G-d in your heart." I find this moves them, while just the physical mitzvah leaves them feeling unchanged.

     Some years ago a middle-aged Jewish man came up to me at the tefillin stand and told me a story. "Five years ago I was walking down the street in L.A. and a young yeshiva student asked me to put on tefillin. I blew up on him and yelled, 'You rotten Jew you just lost your share in the World to Come. You embarrassed me in public,' and I ran off in a huff!"   

     "I got so angry … I took some fifty steps, but then I stopped and said, 'how low have I come that a Jew would ask me to do a mitzvah and I got angry at him! You know, I turned at that minute and went home and put on my tefillin and I have been putting them on every day since."

     Imagine how that boy must have felt back then and probably still today regrets what he did. But you never know when you try to do a mitzvah what good will come from your effort. It is not up to us if we succeed, but it is up to us if we try.




  1. Im not sure you answered the question exactly. I teach secular kids and also REALLY want to know the best approaches ad you have said they are all different. One try i have been somewhat successful with is the: ill give you a bucket of dirt and water and you give me a cucumber. The conversation rolls onto a creator and the unlimited amount of seeds and how it must die/dissintegrate before it comes alive...A reread of Kelleman's books are also a phenomenal kiruv tool.

  2. Made me think of you Gutman:

    Soon after the Rebbe launched the mivtzah tefillin in 5727 (1967), Reb Bentziyon Rader of London was
    asked by a neighbor why this particular mitzvah was chosen. Reb Bentziyon, not knowing the answer, posed
    the question to the Rebbe himself during his next visit to 770.

    The Rebbe answered, “A Yid who puts on te llin even once in his life removes himself from the very negative category discussed in the Gemara (Rosh Hashana 17a)”

    The Rebbe continued, “Additionally, when a Yid in Miami sees a picture of someone putting on tefillin at the Kosel, this may inspire him to do the same.”


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