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Tuesday
Feb272018

“AND YOU SHALL BIND THEM … AND YOU SHALL LOOK UPON THEM”!

The bachurim from the Eilat yeshiva were sitting at the farbrengen called to strengthen ‘Tefillin Campaign’ activities in the city, when a Litvishe student came in and tried to cool off their enthusiasm. However, just then, the door suddenly opened, and by an incredible case of Divine Providence, there entered a living and breathing testimony to the success of Mivtza Tefillin.

Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry

Tens of thousands of Jews are exposed each day to the blessed activities of ‘SMS-Tefillin.’ They receive daily messages with reminders to put on tefillin and on Friday to light Shabbos candles.

This is the initiative of one individual, HaTamim Yisroel Asulin from Kfar Chabad. The project started with several dozen daily messages, and after a decade of activities, it has reached several hundred thousand per week. More and more Jews from across the religious spectrum have joined the list of those receiving these reminders.

At a farbrengen that took place at the central Kfar Chabad synagogue on the last day of Pesach, HaTamim Yisroel Asulin shared with those in attendance an amazing story that took place several years ago.

THE IRRITATING AVREICH

“Every once in a while, we organize a campaign designed to increase the number of Jews responding to the call to put on tefillin each weekday via the daily SMS reminders we send them. Recently, we concluded another round of activities relating to this campaign. Numerous shluchim and T’mimim participated, with the assistance of the students from the Chabad yeshiva in Eilat. These activities added the names of about thirty thousand Jews to our list of ‘SMS’ recipients, an achievement of success that even surprised me. In recognition of the successful conclusion of this campaign, we held a Chassidic farbrengen in one of the classrooms at the Chabad yeshiva in Eilat, together with the T’mimim.

“During the farbrengen, an avreich with an outwardly Litvishe appearance came into the room and asked to hear why we were in a state of such tremendous simcha. After giving him a ‘L’chaim’, we told him in general about our outreach initiative and the thousands of Jews that had joined this project in recent days. In addition, we described how thousands more also receive the daily ‘HaYom Yom’ saying. Yet, while we were very excited about the success of our project, the avreich remained rather cold and indifferent. He obviously wasn’t very impressed by our presentation. ‘It’s a pity on all that money going to waste, not to mention the bittul Torah,’ he declared.

“He then took advantage of our stunned silence and continued: ‘I don’t want to extinguish the spark of excitement in your eyes or the deep faith you have in your work, but who told you that these Jews receiving your SMS message to put on tefillin actually put on tefillin? And who told you that the Jewish woman who gets a reminder about the time to light Shabbos candles really lights the candles? It stands to reason that most of these people pay no attention to your messages,’ he asserted with determination. In his theoretical opinion, those Jews who met a Chabadnik on the street and put on tefillin were ‘turned on’ for a few minutes and then immediately went back to their normal daily routine without giving it a second thought.

“While I tried to bring some of the examples we encounter every day of Jews who rigorously keep these mitzvos in the merit of our activities, the avreich merely gave us a look of skepticism, stating that these were just a small portion of his questions.

“I decided to strike while the iron was still hot. ‘What is your biggest question?’ I asked. ‘You have the chance to ask it – right now.’

“The avreich proceeded to ask the most commonly posed question in this area. ‘How can you possibly put tefillin on a Jew who more than likely did not wash his hands before performing this mitzvah?’ I provided the standard response to this question based on one of the Rebbe’s sichos on the subject, delivered shortly after he launched the Tefillin Campaign. First of all, one can rely b’dieved upon the likelihood that the person washed his hands at some point during the day. Secondly, one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah, i.e., who knows if maybe putting on tefillin will cause him to follow the path of Torah.

“While this avreich did listen most attentively, it was clear that he still wasn’t convinced. ‘That’s a logical explanation,’ he replied, ‘but the reality is totally different.’”

THE LIVING ANSWER TO ALL HIS QUESTIONS

“At this point, I thought that it was pointless to continue this discussion, as whatever claim I made was immediately rejected by the ice-cold front against anything connected to spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus. Then there came a complete change, something that you only read about in storybooks. While I’ve experienced numerous cases of Divine Providence, I had never encountered something as amazing as this before.

“In the hallway facing the open classroom where we were sitting, there passed a middle-aged Jew with a slightly graying beard. As soon as he noticed me, he suddenly stopped in his tracks and said hello. His heavy accent quickly gave away the fact that he had been born and raised in the former Soviet Union. Since I didn’t recognize him, I asked him for his name and where he lived. Once he realized that I didn’t know who he was, he began a fascinating monologue that left all those sitting at the farbrengen positively speechless.

“‘Yisroel,’ he said to me, ‘you may not recognize me with a beard and dressed like a Chassid, but just know that it’s in your merit that I look this way.’

“The man sat down and began to tell his story: ‘My name is Pesach. A few years ago, I came to Eilat from Chadera due to a crisis I was enduring in my personal life. I wanted to run away from it all, and this brought me to Eilat.

“‘Before arriving here, I started taking a little interest in Torah and Chassidus with the help of Rabbi Shalom Roitenberg, one of the Rebbe’s shluchim in Chadera. Nevertheless, I didn’t take any concrete steps towards observing mitzvos. In light of my personal crisis, I abandoned everything, moved to Eilat, grew a long ponytail, and maintained a free and uninhibited lifestyle.

“‘One day, as I was walking along Eilat’s pedestrian mall with the hot sun beating down on my head, I saw you walking towards me. To tell you the truth, you looked to me like an Italian ‘gangster.’ You were walking in the middle of the street with such self-confidence; it seemed as if you felt all the surrounding storefronts belonged to your father…’

“‘I looked intently at you, and then suddenly, without any warning in advance or a word of introduction, you came up to me and asked in Russian: “Dear Jew, have you put on tefillin today?” I smiled and said no. ‘Not only haven’t I put on today,’ I added, ‘I’ve never fulfilled this mitzvah in my life.’

“‘You immediately informed me most decisively that a Jew must put on tefillin at least once during his lifetime. Then, before I understood what was happening or had a chance to decline, you rolled up my shirtsleeve and fastened the tefillin straps on my arm and head. You asked me to say the bracha and recite the ‘Shma Yisroel’ after you, and so I did. After you removed the tefillin, but before I could even speak with you, you quickly disappeared among the pedestrians. Maybe you were in a rush or you were afraid of my reaction…’

“‘I remained standing there a little while longer, thunderstruck and astounded by your immense self-confidence. I couldn’t possibly respond too harshly… I sat on the nearby sidewalk and thought about my life from the time I was a child until that very moment: the difficulties and successes, immigrating to Eretz Yisroel, my family, and my children. A flood of thoughts entered my mind about the essence of my existence, what I have done in this world, and what it meant to be a member of the Jewish People. I burst into tears and couldn’t stop crying.’

“‘As I walked back home from the Eilat pedestrian mall, I realized that my life was about to change – and it happened much quicker than I could ever imagine.’

“‘The next morning, a Friday, a good friend of mine from the local Russian-speaking community called me with an enthusiastic suggestion. There was a very knowledgeable Chabad chassid, Rabbi Michoel Fogel, who organized communal prayer services and meals each Shabbos together with other Russian speakers. “It’s very interesting there. It would be a good idea if you came,” he proposed. I didn’t refuse.’

“‘And now look how I appear today: wearing a hat and suit, a Chabad chassid in every respect. Just know, my dear Yisroel, everything is in your merit – all because you put tefillin on me that day on the pedestrian mall.’”

“I OWE YOU MY SPIRITUAL LIFE”

“I was deeply moved to hear this story,” recalled HaTamim Yisroel Asulin. “I saw that even R’ Pesach himself was filled with emotion as his eyes glistened with tears. It was quite clear that the events of those days still overwhelmed him. I went over to him and gave him a long warm embrace. ‘I owe you my spiritual life,’ he continued to tell me.

“At this point, I looked at the face of this Litvishe avreich, who was a witness to this entire conversation, and I asked him: ‘Do you have any more questions about the ‘Tefillin Campaign,’ Chabad, or the Rebbe’s conduct in general?’ He stood there totally stunned, unable to speak for several long minutes. Such a Heaven-sent example of Divine Providence was not the kind of thing that you experience every day…

“‘Just know one thing,’ he suddenly said. ‘While I wasn’t raised in the same environment as you were, nor did I receive the same education as you did, I have just seen G-dliness in a literal sense. My view on Chabad and the Rebbe’s mitzvah campaigns now appear in an entirely different light…’”

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