Sunday, November 1, 2009

Jerusalem Day

What the SAGES Say

This is a true story. I am the narrator. It was the custom

of our Gemara shiur at Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem to

take the train up north to the sleepy seaside town of

Zichron Yaakov every couple of months for a long weekend


This was the old Jerusalem-Tel Aviv line, now abandoned.

Twice a day, the train chugged indolently through the Judean

mountains, winding its way along wadis filled with wildflowers

overseen by hawks circling far above. The Jerusalem

train station was an ornate arcade designed by the Turks in

their waning years of empire.

The ride to Tel Aviv took about and hour and a half. By

bus the ride was 45 minutes, by car, half an hour. An old joke

said you could step off the first carriage, pick a bouquet of

flowers, and step back on the train with time to spare.

Although preposterously cheap, the timeworn train always

made its leisurely run near-empty.

Almost always, that is.

The Thursday we had scheduled for our Zikaron

Yaakov excursion turned out to be Jerusalem Day, when

the country celebrates the capture and reunification of

Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.

The normally tranquil and placid train was filled to overflowing

with raucous Israeli teenagers enjoying the day off

from high school. Each three-seater couch was occupied

by one prone teenager. Cigarette haze filled the cars.

Transistor radios cackled and screeched. The chatter was

like an awesome aviary. Bubble gum popped and snapped.

After some informal negotiation, the guys in our shiur

managed to carve out a niche in the corner of the last car.

We said the brief travel-prayer, cracked open our Gemaras,

and settled down to learn.

Suddenly we looked up to see a disheveled teenage kid

standing over us. Do you guys learn in Yeshivah? he

inquired. Yes, we nodded. Do you put on Tefillin? he

continued. Yes, we put on Tefillin, we replied. Do you

have Tefillin here with you? he pressed on. Wondering

where this was leading, we said yes, we did we put them

on once a day and needed them for tomorrow. Id like to

put on Tefillin. Would you lend me a pair? he concluded.

This unusual request provoked a heated argument among

us. Their high degree of sanctity requires Tefillin to be treated

with extreme respect. They cannot be worn when ones

body is soiled or even while thinking unclean thoughts. Most

of the shiur thought that lending Tefillin to this secular high

school kid risked debasing them and making a laughing-stock

of this precious Mitzvah.

Rachamim, an Iranian immigrant who lived in New York

and joined the Yeshiva for the summers, thought differently.

Ill lend you my Tefillin, he told the kid, on condition that

you respect their sanctity and follow all the Halachic guidelines.

The kid agreed. The Halachic guidelines meant he had

to wash his hands in running water, wear a kippa, say the

beracha, lay both the head and hand Tefillin properly, and

recite divrei keddusha while wearing them. The kid disappeared,

and returned in a flash holding his hands aloft, dripping

with water. (The facilities in the train did not include

hand towels!) Rachamim lent him a kippa, showed him how

to put on the Tefillin, and taught him the beracha.

From the moment the kid returned with his dripping

hands in the air, the party-atmosphere in the train transmuted

into total silence. Dozens of pairs of teenage eyes followed

his every move. The word went out and the entire

trainload of kids migrated to our car. All you could hear over

the clickety-click of the rails was our kids soft sobs as he

recited the Shema.

Then an even more remarkable thing happened. All of

the boys in the train formed a line behind our kid. Each

asked to put on Tefillin! Rachamim had his hands full. For the

next two hours the cacophony of music, chatter and bubblegum

ceased. One after another the boys washed their

hands, put on the kippa, said the beracha, put on the Tefillin,

and recited the Shema.

Afterwards the kids asked us to explain the meaning of

the Mitzvah of Tefillin. I volunteered and gave them a brief

lesson. I explained that Tefillin contain the four sacred

parchments from the Torah in which the Mitzvah of Tefillin is

mentioned. We wear them on our weaker arm to show that

His is the power. They are jewelry given to us by HaKadosh

Baruch Hu to show His love for us.

Rav Nachman bar Yitshak said to Rav Hiya bar Avin, What

is written in the Tefillin of the Master of the World? He replied

(Shmuel 1, 7:23) And who is like unto your People Israel, one

nation on earth. (Berachot 6a).

David Siegel is an alumnus of Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem, 1985.

He is currently attached to a Kollel in Jerusalems Old City. He has edited

and published from manuscripts original works by Rabbi Elazar ben Yehuda

of Worms, known as the Rokeah after his Halachic classic of that title.

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