Our oldest son's Bar Mitzvah was approaching and we were looking forward to it with excitement and enthusiasm. However, I must admit that we approached this event with some mixed feelings. My sister's son Benny, who had also just recently turned thirteen but had not celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, was going to be coming to the Bar Mitzvah together with all of our other nieces and nephews. Until now, we had always managed to provide a pair of
tefillin for our nephews when they turned Bar Mitzvah and we wanted to do the same for Benny.
My wife Gittel had gone into a local Judaica shop and found that the "bottom line" price was much more than we could scrape together. Gittel decided to order a velvet
tefillin bag with Benny's name personalized on it (the custom-ordered embroidering takes six days) in the hope that somehow we would get
tefillin for him.
The following Sunday, which was Chanukah eve, I headed to a neat shop on 7th Avenue in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn to pick up some last minute gifts for the family. To my surprise, the usually serene area was bustling. I couldn't find a parking spot, and since it was a bitter cold day, I kept circling around the block. Twenty minutes later I realized that I had no choice but to park several blocks away.
I parked the van and began running the four long blocks to the warm store. But as I jogged past the local school my eye caught sight of a small flea market. The place was filled with racks of sweaters and jackets. Five minutes, and a mere few bucks later, I was the proud owner and wearer of a thick, fleece lined, suede leather jacket.
As I turned to leave and take care of the real business at hand, a voice called out to me:
The "bottom line" price was much more than we could scrape together"Hey, Mister! Can you please come here a minute?"
I walked over to his area. He had tables laid out with old buttons, rusty knives, LP's from the 50's and 60's, an old Erector set.
"Maybe you can translate this for me?" he said, displaying a Hebrew plaque.
I guess he had noticed my beard and kippah.
It was a prayer for peace, from the prayer book, and he was very grateful for the translation. I bought the plaque for a couple of bucks. Then, as I turned to walk away, he announced, "Wait a minute! I got more Jewish stuff too!"
I turned back as he reached into a box and pulled out a bulging velvet tefillin bag.
"This is special," he grinned, "no?"
"No," I said, shaking my head slowly back and forth, "nothing special about these things."
"Huh? I thought this is something important to you Jews!"
"Yeah," I said, feigning my disinterest, "we use them for praying. But every Jew's got these." I hoped that my indifference to the
tefillin would help discourage this guy, or any of his friends, from "finding"
tefillin in the future.
I began fingering through his old rock collection. "Howd'ya get these things anyhow?" I asked.
"Nowhere special, you know what I'm saying?"
"Yeah. Well people now use much bigger ones. They ain't worth nothin'."
"How much you willing to pay for 'em?" he finally asked. "Why would I want to do that? I got my own already." He began biting his lower lip.
"Tell you what, amigo," he said. "They cost me five bucks. They're yours for five bucks. You have to pay at least what I did."
"Alright. I'll do you a favor."
A minute later I was finally in the store of my original intention. But I hardly noticed the merchandise or the warmth. I was too busy examining this amazing pair of five dollar
tefillin! Unfortunately, there was no name or number inside the bag for me to identify the original owner.
They looked pretty new and in decent shape. Now the big question was, were these five dollar "flea market"
The next morning, with great anticipation, I dropped them off at a local scribe.
A few days later, on the day Benny arrived, we presented him with his very special
tefillin and beautifully embroidered bag as his Bar Mitzvah present. The
tefillin were very kosher indeed. He said the blessings together with our Bar Mitzvah boy, Aharon Moshe.
"Are these really my tefillin?" he asked, all wide-eyed. I thought of the
tefillin bag that Gittel had ordered with great hope, of the lack of parking which caused me to park blocks from my intended store, of the flea market that just happened to be there on that Sunday, of the "amigo" who must have noticed my
kipah and beard, of the tefillin he happened to have. I shook my head in amazement.
"Yeah," I said, "these tefillin are really meant for you!"
The biggest miracle came a few days later when my sister, Benny's mother, called from their home in the Berkshire Mountains.
"Benny stayed home from school today with a sore throat," she told us. "After some hot tea he asked for his
tefillin and put them on. He looked up the blessings in a prayer book you gave us a couple of years back."
G‑d truly guides our footsteps.