Friday, November 3, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: My Father’s Tefillin

Jewish Rituals
“Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn”

“And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, 
and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes.”

It lay conspicuously on the top shelf of my parents’ bedroom closet; I was eight or nine and I wrapped the old worn leather black straps around my thin arms. The straps were too long for my thin arms, so instead I started to play with them. They were interesting and unusual. It was my father’s tefillin; I had seen him doing such a wrapping ritual only one time, yet I copied him.

I don’t know what happened to my father’s tefillin. After he died, my mother started to give away my father’s clothes and all that belonged to my father—another ritual, a different ritual. I never saw his tefillin again. I eventually received my own set of tefillin, after I had children and after I initiated my trek back to the long-standing traditions of Judaism and its rites of passage into adulthood.

It would be many years, however, before I understand the significance of this Jewish ritual, and even longer before I took it seriously. This describes one of the many strengths of Judaism; it is never too late to begin something good. As to the importance of physical rituals in connection with seeking truth and making it a reality, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1800–1888) writes:
A truth, in order to produce results, must be impressed upon the mind and heart repeatedly and emphatically. Merely to acknowledge the essential principles of righteousness and love, is not sufficient to actually build up such a life.
The ritual itself is important, one of many that help Yidn to direct their minds and hearts to better move along the path of love and righteousness, or as it is often called, Torah im Derech Eretz (Hebrew: תורה עם דרך ארץ). So, when I put on tefillin, I join the Jews of both the past and the present in fulfilling one of the obligations of Judaism.

All beginnings are hard, as is the case of all new rituals. it takes time and effort. If you want to put on tefillin and it is your first time or you have not done this in years, there are many good videos to give you guidance, including the ones found here, here and here.

Gut Shabbes
Peretz J. Greenbaum,
November 3, 2017

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