Thursday, May 28, 2020

Torture Device or Privelege

The first time I saw someone wearing tefillin was in a photograph. A black and white image it had come from relatives in Israel and I was horrified. I was all of eight years old and, in my ignorance, thought the leather straps looked like some sort of torture device.
My father, who had worn tefillin as a teenager, wasn’t home to explain that those straps were not the least bit painful. My mother, who’d had as much exposure as I’d had, was frustrated by not being able to make me understand that tefillin was part of my Jewish heritage.

Time passed and I began to understand the words of the Shema.  I learned how the Jewish people were commanded at Mt. Sinai to bind the words of the Torah upon our arms, between our eyes, and on the doorposts of our homes.  (Deuteronomy, Chapter 6, verses 8 and 9). I knew about the doorposts of our home and had seen many mezuzahs but it wasn’t until I was in college that I actually saw men praying with tefillin. By the time I married I was able to see the beauty of this commandment. And it never bothered me that it was a man’s commandment. I had my own directives for serving my Maker and was content to try to raise my four sons to one day don tefillin.

It was their father’s job to teach them the intricacies of this particular mitzvah. He also ordered their tefillin and proudly presented them to our sons shortly before their Bar Mitzvahs. It was an exciting moment for all of us. Thankfully, they continue to use their tefillin to this day.

Now their sons are becoming Bar Mitzvah boys and my husband and I have been blessed to be able to buy them sets of tefillin. However, times are different and education is more hands-on.  This past week we accompanied our third grandson, along with his parents, other grandmother, and older sister, to the tefillin factory in Beit El. Not only were we given a tour and explanation from step one to the end of how tefillin are made, the Bar Mitzvah boy watched as his father and grandfather inserted the parchments with the special verses inside his own set of tefillin.

Obviously, it was very emotional for all of us. As we draw close to the holiday of Shavuot, the holiday on which we mark the anniversary of receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai, I am so grateful for my heritage. It’s my prayer that my grandson and his cousins will never think of their tefillin as a torture device. Rather that they will understand the tremendous privilege they have being part of the chain of the Jewish people trying to observe the laws handed down at Mt. Sinai. May the observance of these laws and our heartfelt prayers bring true redemption speedily in our days.

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