My Best Friend
I will never forget the day I went to the synagogue and put my tefillin on for the very first time. I had been looking forward to that day for years.
As a child, I saw my father put on tefillin daily as did all the men in my synagogue. Now that I was turning thirteen, I would have my chance to finally put on my tefillin that my parents had bought for me in Israel.
I have to admit that my desire to put on Tefillin was not because of my deep spiritual longing to connect with God. It was more because wearing them just looked cool. As a thirteen-year old, deep spiritual connectedness was not yet part of my life.
What are Tefillin? Wearing tefillin is a Biblical command based on the verse in Deuteronomy 6:8 that says: “Bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be ornaments between your eyes.” For thousands of years Jews have been putting tefillin on their arms and upon their heads. In fact, at an archaeological excavation in the Judean desert, the oldest tefillin were found. They are over 2000 years old!
About a month before a Jewish boy turns thirteen he starts to put on tefillin. At first it is awkward as you learn to maneuver the boxes and straps so that you wear it comfortably. It is a process that takes time.
The first day that I put on tefillin I came to the synagogue early to have a few extra moments to put them on before the service actually began. Tefillin are worn daily while we pray. As my father helped me put on my tefillin, the rabbi of the synagogue came over and said something that I will never forget.
He said: “You will have people that will enter your life and people that will leave your life. One day you will even leave your parent’s home to study, get married or perhaps to travel. You will meet lots of people and make many friends. Life will have many ups and downs. There will be twists and turns along the road of life. The one constant friend that will always be with you every single day for the rest of your life is your tefillin. They will be with you wherever you go. They will never abandon you. They are your lifeline to bind yourself to God. Never abandon them.”
His words made an impression on me but I did not fully appreciate the profundity of his words. The Talmud says that a person does not completely grasp the words of their teacher until forty years has gone by. It has not been quite forty years since my rabbi said these words to me but it is very close!
My life, and I don’t think I am unique here, hasn’t always been a smooth ride. There have been ups and downs, times of joy, and moments of extreme difficulty. My tefillin has been there with me—seen it all, heard it all and they have picked me up when I was broken. They celebrated my marriage with me, rejoiced with me at the birth of my children and came home with me when I left the US to move to Israel. They cried with me when my wife delivered a still-born baby and embraced me with the love of God. They have been on every vacation I have ever taken and they have been to almost every State in the US with me. They have been worn in airports, on planes, on ships, in parks, while camping and in the hospital. I always know where they are and protect them wherever I go. If I misplace them in my house and need to look for them, I panic until I find them.
This week I took my twelve-year-old son Ezra to get his tefillin as he approaches his bar-mitzvah. We sat with the sofer (expert scribe) who gently explained how the tefillin are made, the significance of them, and how to care for them. I had to fight back tears of joy as I watched my son listen intently and watch with great interest. He was being introduced to his best friend yet, like me at his age, he did not yet appreciate it.
My deepest prayer is that with each passing day of his life, he will become closer and closer to his tefillin, and through his tefillin, closer to God.