Question: Where I live, I see Chabad Shluchim offering Jewish passerby to put on tefillin, is this of any value if they are otherwise non-observant, additionally is doing so in a street – a public thoroughfare proper kavod for the tefillin?
Synopsis: We previously cited the Mechaber who explains the mitzvah of tefillin as to be worn the entire day, but due to the constraints of the human condition whereby one might not be able to always be in the state of cleanliness of one’s person, guf naki, in our time we only wear them as we pray (the Shacharit prayer). We enumerated the blessings and reward as relates to this mitzvah as Poshe’a b’gufo – one who sins with his body. We also noted the importance to the performance of this mitzvah of purchasing tefillin from a G-d-fearing scribe who writes beautiful tefillin that are to last for many years
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Answer: We find that doing something that is done even once has great possibilities. When Yitzchak sent Yaakov to Padan Aram (Genesis 28:5-7) to Lavan (his mother’s brother) to take a wife from among his children, Esav saw in this an implicit message that his father wished that his children not take for themselves wives from the indigenous people of Canaan, who were cursed, but rather from their own family, the family of Abraham, who were of the blessed children of Shem. Therefore this prompted Esav to consider his own options as he sought to find favor in his father’s eyes. Thus, Esav (infra 28:9) went to (his father’s brother) Yishmael to marry one of his daughters named Mochalat.
Yet later (Genesis 36:3) we find that his wife, the daughter of Yishmael, is named Bosmat. Is this perhaps another daughter of Yishmael? Not so, as none of our Sages understand that he was married to two daughters of Yishmael. Therefore, Rashi cites the Midrash (to Shmuel) that his wife was really named Bosmat but is referred to originally as Mochalat (lit. forgiveness) because from these verses our Sages learn that on the day one marries, he is forgiven all his/her sins.
Today every Jewish couple on the day of their wedding fast and say special viduy – confessional prayers in the hopes of taking advantage of this gift of total repentance for any bygone sins (between man and G-d).
Unfortunately for Esav and Bosmat, it was a missed opportunity as they did not take advantage of that moment and start their lives afresh.
Nevertheless, we see that Hashem would have reckoned their entire being until that moment as free of sin. This even though (as Rashi explains, end of Toldot) this woman was as wicked as his earlier wives. We thus see that Hashem seeks out the wicked and seeks their repentance even if it will be for but a solitary moment.
We find this in the book of Yonah that Hashem commands the prophet Yonah b. Amitai to journey to the city of Nineveh, a city of gentiles, whose sins were of such epic proportion that they were under a death sentence from Hashem. Interestingly, it is not every gentile people that merit Hashem sending His prophet for the specific purpose to coax them to repentance. Yet Hashem seeks to send Yonah on this mission in the hopes that his exhortations will stir them to repent. The question is why?
We offer the following possible explanation: As much as the people of Nineveh were to be tested, Yonah too was being tested – Will he make the effort to bring these people, not of the Jewish nation, to repentance and thus suspend their death sentence?
Almost to the end Yonah remained an unwilling participant in this journey; however, circumstances found him appearing before the King of Nineveh. To his surprise, the king and the people wasted no time in accepting his message and began to fast and plead before Hashem that their sins be forgiven and that the harsh decree be annulled.
This tale of an improbable people and an improbable repentance was considered of such great consequence that our Sages enacted that it serve as the special Haftara – Maftir Yonah – at Mincha on Yom Kippur, the Jewish people’s day of repentance.
It should be obvious that we can never know what one action of man can be the catalyst for everlasting change. Indeed, we have to do ours as surely as Hashem does His.
To be continued