January 7, 2014
Chaim Brook in #911, Mivtzaim Stories

Erev Shabbos Chanuka in Eilat. As the number of people putting on t’fillin at the seashore shopping center exceeded one hundred and fifty(!), the T’mimim at the mivtzaim stand never imagined that there would be more and bigger surprises in store for them. A man with hair down to his shoulders and a cross around his neck took the stand. The questions he started asking came as an even greater surprise. How would the story end?

The following story was told by a student in Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim, who took part in mitzvah campaign activities this past Chanuka in Eilat:

“On Friday morning, Erev Shabbos Chanuka, I went out together with another Tamim on Mivtza T’fillin to the large shopping center located near the Eilat seashore. The sea winds were particularly fierce that day, and we were unable to put up our t’fillin stand in its regular place. Under the circumstances, we had no alternative except to move our operations to the entrance of the shopping center.

“At first, the security guard tried to tell us that he couldn’t allow us to go inside. However, after a brief explanation on the imminent arrival of Moshiach, the essence of the mitzvah of putting on t’fillin, and a few smiles, he gave his consent. Apparently, even the guard could understand that this large shopping center had been erected to give people the opportunity of fulfilling this important mitzvah…

“We were stunned by the number of people streaming in our direction, and the place was soon filled to capacity. After only an hour and a half, we had already put t’fillin on a hundred and fifty people! That was about one every thirty seconds… We found out later that the throngs passing by this spot were a commonplace occurrence in Eilat.

“As we continued the t’fillin marathon virtually without skipping a beat, I suddenly heard someone calling in my direction in a loud voice: ‘Tell me, is this what G-d really wants? Putting animal skin on your head and arm?’

“I turned in the direction of the voice, and I was surprised to see a young man in his twenties with long shiny black hair down to his shoulders and r”l a cross hanging around his neck… ‘Yes,’ I replied sincerely, ‘G-d wants holiness to penetrate the lowest and most material things.’

“The young man proceeded to say a few words on the famous heretic from Natzrat, and then he added, ‘May his name and memory be erased…’ I couldn’t understand what was happening here: Who is this person and where did he come from? And if he’s for ‘the heretic,’ why did he say, ‘May his name and memory be erased?’

“As I was pondering the matter, the young man disappeared and returned a few minutes later with a few friends. He started discussing Gemara with me. I looked at him with astonishment as my confusion grew: A man wearing a cross around his neck expounding on the Talmud, citing the relevant sources with such great expertise?

“I soon discovered that he had once been one of the most prominent Torah scholars at a leading yeshiva in B’nei Brak. However, when he was plagued with nagging, unanswered questions, the evil inclination did a real job on him and he gave up a life of Torah and mitzvos to the point that he now walked around with a cross around his neck!

“As we continued our discussion, I couldn’t restrain myself and I exclaimed, ‘This is what happens when someone learns Torah without learning about the Giver of the Torah.’

“To my surprise, he actually agreed with this observation.

“At this point, I suggested that he put on t’fillin after not doing so for a long time. However, as I had expected, he quickly rejected my offer. I kept trying to urge him to re-consider, but he stood firm. 

“While I had almost given up, I saw that for some reason he continued to stand near our booth and wouldn’t go anywhere. It seemed as if his G-dly soul simply wouldn’t let him leave. He wanted to go, but he couldn’t move… I understood that his pintele yid was coming through, and it wouldn’t leave him in such a state. As a result, I decided to help him reveal his G-dly soul to the fullest and carry out the Divine Will, come what may!

“‘Have you ever heard of the concept of religious coercion?’ I asked him as I began to roll up his sleeve. ‘Have you gone crazy?’ he said to me. ‘I can’t – I’m wearing a crucifix!’ But they were empty words, as he apparently really did want to fulfill the mitzvah. ‘We’ll do it quickly,’ I told him. ‘But I haven’t even washed my hands. How can you put t’fillin on me like this?’ the young man continued to ask me.

“I ran to the Chabad House vehicle and brought a bottle of water. In the meantime, he had managed to remove the t’fillin from his arm… At this point, I didn’t ask any more questions – as the Rambam says, ‘you compel him.’ I poured the water on his hands and again started putting the t’fillin on him – ‘until he says: I want…’

“‘No, no,’ he kept muttering, as I placed the t’fillin on his arm. Suddenly, he got a hold of himself. He closed his eyes, made the bracha with great emotion, fastened the knot of the t’fillin, and began to wind the strap around his arm. 

“He started saying the Krias Shma, and I took the opportunity to pull on the chain holding the cross, but it merely choked him. ‘No, no…’ he motioned, but the clasp on the chain immediately opened, and it fell into my hand. Now I had it.

“‘Give it to me,’ he suddenly began to plead. ‘I bought it in order to fulfill the commandment of ‘and you shall abolish evil from among you.’ 

“‘Sorry, I don’t trust you,’ I replied. ‘This thing’s been hanging around your neck far too long.’ 

“As we continued our disagreement, I noticed someone watching us from the side, as he tried to determine what the Lubavitcher had stolen from the Jew putting on t’fillin… However, when he finally realized what was going on, he smiled broadly. 

“I grabbed the cross, made out of thin metal, and I slowly broke it into little pieces. He again tried to ask me for the pieces, but I told him, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of them.’

“Eventually, when he finished saying the Shma with undisguised fervor, he had nothing but words of praise for us. ‘Congratulations. Thanks to you, I put on t’fillin after having not done so for a very long time!’ We parted with a hug, and he went on his way.

“While this entire story took only a few minutes, I had been deeply moved to see with my own eyes how the G-dly soul and the animal soul waged a battle to control a heart, and how the pintele yid – the spark of Moshiach within him – was revealed and didn’t allow him to be separated from G-dliness. All this was in spite of the fact that he continued to say ‘No.’ 

“When I later told this to one of the mashpiim in the yeshiva, he said to me: ‘Tell this to the T’mimim learning in the yeshiva, and say to them that this could be a subtle example of how far things can go if someone learns Chassidus without learning the recent sichos from the yechida of the generation, the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach…’”

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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