#187 (s5761-34/23 Iyar 5761)


At the outbreak of the Six-Day War, the Lubavitcher Rebbe inaugurated the campaign to arouse all Jewish males to perform the mitzvah of tefillin.



In 5727 (1967), a young chassid from Australia traveled to New York to spend Shavuot with the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Brooklyn. He arrived a few days before the festival, just a short time after the Rebbe, at the outbreak of the Six-Day War, had inaugurated the campaign to arouse all Jewish males to perform the mitzvah of wrapping tefillin. He had cited the verse, "The fear of the nations will be upon you," and the traditional interpretation that this results when our enemies see our Head-tefillin. In the aftermath of the miraculous victory and the Jewish arousal that accompanied it, the Rebbe recommended to continue and even increase the tefillin campaign.

The Chabad chassidim responded to his call, of course (as did others). Many made it their practice to go out once a week to help in this mission. Every Friday the yeshiva students would go to schools, hospitals, shopping centers and so forth to benefit Jewish men and post-bar mitzvah boys with this mitzvah that they might otherwise never encounter.

Our young Australian decided one day after morning prayers to accompany some of his local peers in this campaign. He had never done it before, so he thought he would gain some pointers in how to approach people from those with some experience. At the last moment, before entering the waiting car, he decided to duck into the nearby grocery to get some fast food to take along. It was already late morning, yet he hadn't eaten anything. Not wanting to cause the others to wait for him unduly, he snatched up a random selection of baked goods from the first shelf he saw, paid for them as soon as he could, and ran back to the car.

As they rode, he pulled out his bag to take something to eat and offered his companions to help themselves. Suddenly they all burst into laughter. Among the pastries was an assortment of hamantaschen! "Hamantaschen now! On Erev Shavuos? It's nearly three months since Purim!"

The cakes and cookies disappeared quickly. Only the hamantaschen remained. Perhaps they were wary of eating anything so obviously unfresh.

After three quarters of an hour they reached their destination: a large hospital center in Manhattan. There, they split into pairs and assigned themselves different wards to visit. In each one there were many Jews. They invited each Jewish man to wrap tefillin, and most of them agreed to do so, either immediately or after a slight bit of coaxing.

As the end of the time approached, the Australian and his partner went into one more room, and found that another pair of their friends had already entered before them. In the room were two Jewish male patients. One of them accepted the offer of tefillin right away, but the other firmly refused. He even broke into a rage, exclaiming, "I am as connected to G-d as you are."

The students tried to calm the elderly man with gentle words, but he refused to be pacified. Indeed, their words only seemed to make him angrier. His fierce objection to the idea of performing the mitzvah of tefillin aroused their curiosity. After all, here was a man clearly very advanced in years, sick in bed in a hospital, with the name of G-d coming easily to his lips; it didn't make sense that he should refuse so adamantly to don the tefillin. Even his roommate tried to persuade him to do it, but he wouldn't listen.

After a while they were ready to give up. Anyway, it was time to leave. Then one of them addressed the old man again, this time offering him a piece of fruit. "Here, eat this. At least you will get to recite a blessing."

The man turned as face to the wall, ignoring them. But then he suddenly swiveled in their direction and said sarcastically, "Fruit you present me? Bring me a hamantaschen and then I'll put on your precious tefillin."

They couldn't believe their ears. As if at a signal, three pairs of eyes swung towards the visitor from Australia. A broad smile stretched across his face. Gazing fondly at the elderly patient, he replied to him, "If in order to put on tefillin you require hamantaschen, so okay, we'll get you some hamantaschen!"

The old man stared back incredulously. "Yeah, right. Hamantaschen now? After Pesach? Oh, sure."

The other three boys said whatever they could think of to keep the ornery patient occupied. In the meantime, the Australian had already zoomed out of the room, flew down the flights of stairs several steps at a time, and darted to their car in the hospital's parking lot.

With a happy smile and an uplifted heart he took out the little package of hamantaschen from his bag, the presumably stale Purim pastries that just a short while ago had been scorned by all who saw it, and now had been transformed into an extremely valuable bit of merchandise. After all, the performance of the mitzvah of tefillin by an old man confined to a hospital bed depended on it. How strange!

As he made his way back up the steps he wondered to himself how long a time had gone by since this elderly Jew had last wrapped tefillin. Surely it was safe to assume that it had been many years.

Re-entering the room, he went over to the patient's bed and extended to him a double handful of hamantaschen. To their mutual surprise, the old man's eyes filled with tears. "Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable. Hamantaschen after Pesach. Who would have thought…?" He stretched out his hand and gingerly lifted one to his mouth. One of the yeshiva boys helped him to say the correct blessing. He closed his eyes and chewed slowly.

After, without a word being said, he rolled up the sleeve of his left arm to fulfill his side of the bizarre deal that, strangely, he himself had 'proposed.' When the tefillin were on him, he began to cry silently; tears were streaming down his cheeks. Nor was he the only one - there wasn't a dry eye in the room.

The young Chassidim drove back to Lubavitch world headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn. They felt satisfied and fulfilled from the day's events, but more than that they were filled with wonder at the extraordinary combination of events that had meshed together. The whole way back in the car they couldn't stop discussing it. Clearly everything had been arranged directly from heaven!

Before returning to Australia, the young man was able to enter into private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He told him the whole story (in fact, it is from this chassid from Australia, who wishes to remain anonymous, that we know this story too). The Rebbe smiled and replied, "Nu, if that is what it takes, let someone bring him hamantaschen every day."

[Translated and adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from Sichat HaShavuah #634]

Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

A 48 page soft-covered booklet containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store site.

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