Ordering your bar mitzvah boy’s tefillin so that they will be ready when you need them is an art form.
A friend was sharing her disappointment that her son’s tefillin would not be arriving in time for him to put them on a month before his actual bar mitzvah, as is the minhag in their family. I commiserated with her. If I recall correctly, despite ordering my oldest son’s tefillin two years in advance, we nearly didn’t have them in time as well. If memory doesn’t deceive me, I believe the tefillin were picked up the night before they were needed.
Being quite experienced in making bar mitzvahs by the time we reached son number three, we had ordered his tefillin in a timely fashion. We didn’t give them much thought in the summertime as his bar mitzvah would not be until the winter. However, we had a tremendous surprise that August, almost half a year before the bar mitzvah was to happen.
We were packing up to attend our nephew’s bar mitzvah at Kibbutz Lavi. Afterwards we would be extending our vacation by a few days, and planned to stay in a house on a small yishuv near Meron. My mother-in-law, who had traveled from Canada to participate in the celebration, would be joining us for the trip up north to the kibbutz and for the extra days in the rented house.
The cars were (over)packed and the house was checked over for no forgotten items. The kids were all excited to finally leave. Suddenly the phone rang. Not knowing if I should answer or just ignore the ringing device, I picked up the phone. It was our good friend and tefillin dealer, Rav Kaufman. He wanted to inform us that our son’s tefillin were ready – a mere five months early. Although Rav Kaufman lived just outside of Jerusalem and on the way to our destination, it wasn’t urgent to acquire the tefillin until we would return.
Our nephew’s bar mitzvah was memorable. In particular, it was lovely being able to spend time with distant relatives. There were actually a few bar mitzvah celebrations going on at the same time. On Sunday morning almost all the guests were busy packing up to go home or, as in our case, to continue on with their vacations. We had meticulously organized our belongings between the two cars. My oldest son, Eli, age 16½, would be leaving our vacation house after a day or two to join his yeshiva camp. He had packed his essential items in a separate backpack, including his tefillin.
As we finished packing up the cars, we suddenly realized we couldn’t find Eli’s backpack. We rechecked our rooms. We looked all around the lobby. We asked each one of the separate bar mitzvah groups if they had seen the lost red backpack. We checked the grounds in front of the lobby. We asked the staff. It was as if the backpack and its precious contents never existed.
We were heartbroken. Beyond the cost, who could deny the holiness and sentimentality of a boy’s tefillin? When we felt there was no point in continuing to search for the lost backpack, we made our way to our next destination with heavy hearts. The plan was for my husband to daven Shacharis early at the kever of Rebbi Shimon and then to come back and give his tefillin to our devastated oldest son. I would then drive the boys to the kever so that they would be able to daven the morning services. It was a treat for me to be able to daven Shacharis at the kever those mornings. Eli would have to borrow tefillin from friends once he would join up with his yeshiva.
After getting settled in our new accommodations at the rented house, I took Eli to the grand nearby city of Tzfat (usually referred to as the sleepy city in those days) to try to purchase his necessary lost items, excluding tefillin, of course. We were able to replace the backpack with one we had brought with us, and a new bathing suit and T-shirt were bought along with whatever else was missing.
Somewhere along the line, it suddenly occurred to us that back at our tefillin dealer’s house, a new pair of tefillin were waiting for us. After an enjoyable holiday up north despite the hole in our hearts from the missing tefillin, we contacted Rav Kaufman and filled him in on the sad tale. He felt our pain and ordered us a new pair. My mother-in-law, who had been with us during the ordeal, generously offered to help defray the cost of the new set of tefillin.
We planned to pick up the available tefillin on our way back to Jerusalem. My husband requested that the tefillin dealer change the knots to accommodate a right-handed boy as our third son is a lefty. Rav Kaufman looked at the pair of tefillin and his notes and remarked, “I don’t know how this happened, but I never paid attention to the fact that this boy is a lefty. I already tied them for right-handed use.”
Sometimes we see how events are all tied up in advance of our knowledge. The additional miracle was that the newly ordered tefillin for our third son were actually ready on time for his bar mitzvah.