Like many religious Jews, our bookshelves contain a variety of sefarim. Among the sifrei Mishnah, the Gemara, the Chumashim, among others, there is one sefer that has special meaning to my family and me.
It is a book written by a religious Jew who wanted to share the love of Shabbat that is felt by so many Jews, both those who are religiously observant or not. Within its pages there are Shabbat tefillot, some laws governing Shabbat, some minhagim, and songs traditionally sung on Shabbat.
In addition, the author quotes Jews from different streams of life. One will express thoughts regarding Shabbat that represent the views of well-known authors like Shai Agnon, poets like Chaim Bialik and philosophers like Martin Buber. There are also thoughts from the Berdichover Rav, Rav Yosef Chaim (also known as The Ben Ish Chai) and Rav Nachman of Breslov, to name a few. One can see how the author is trying to convey that Shabbat belongs to all Jews.
Though the book is not typical of the other sefarim on our shelves, it is a book that stands on its own for a very personal reason. Upon opening the book, there is a personal note Scotch- taped inside. It is a thank you note addressed to my family. And therein lies a story.
Several years ago, someone from my husband’s family asked us for a favor. This person was in possession of a very old pair of tefillin. As the origin of the tefillin was not known, someone had asked our relative to send it to us here in Yerushalayim.
The tefillin were not being used and were in terrible shape. The man who asked for it to be sent to us had a specific reason for his request. He was willing to pay whatever it cost to repair the tefillin so it could be used again. He did not want it returned to him once fixed, but wished for the tefillin to stay here in Israel and be used as we saw fit.
We followed the man’s instructions and the tefillin, now fixed, looked like new. We held onto it, figuring that it could be used as a back-up pair for someone who had lost his pair, or for someone whose pair was being repaired. Over time, it was forgotten in a drawer beneath our sefarim shelves.
A few years passed until one day I saw an ad that reminded me of the treasure I still held. Rivka, a woman in my neighborhood, was looking to borrow a pair of tefillin for a young man who had started to show an interest in the idea of putting on tefillin every day. This was someone who had never been religious, but was getting more and more interested in keeping the mitzvah of tefillin.
When I gladly gave her the spare pair, she told me it would be returned in three months. She felt that that would be enough time for the young man to decide if he wanted to continue observing this mitzvah. At the time, I discussed the issue with my husband and we agreed that if the young man failed to return it, we would try to accept that fact – as long as he continued to wear it daily.
After five months, I felt that perhaps I should remind Rivka of our deal. I had come to realize that I did not want this young man to be doing a mitzvah while holding onto something that did not belong to him.
I told the woman that the young man should continue to use the tefillin, but after one year I would like it returned. I specified that I did not want this to be a reason for the young man to stop doing the mitzvah of putting on tefillin, and if that were the case I would be willing to forgo any rights I might have to the tefillin and let him keep it.
After the year was up, this woman brought over the tefillin to my house. She also brought a sefer wrapped in shiny paper. Inside, there was a note of thanks written to my family:
Dear Diament Family,
Thank you for helping me to get closer to the world of Torah.
With blessing and thanks from the depth of my heart.
It was signed by the young man and his new kallah – Rivka’s daughter.
The best wedding gift the couple received when they married shortly afterwards was a brand new pair of tefillin given to the chattan by an aunt.
Though the book on Shabbat that he gave us was not one I would have chosen, I can’t help but think how this young man – from a very different background from me and my family – had drawn closer to religion through a used pair of tefillin that we had lent him. I don’t know if he will start to lead a religious life now, but I am confident that he will continue to keep the mitzvah of tefillin.
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