Contact Us

Another Day Without Tefillin?

Another Day Without Tefillin?


In August of 1975, I went to Detroit for some business meetings.

I arrived on a Tuesday morning, had meetings all day, and in the evening went to stay with one of the people who was involved in the business meetings, and whose family was associated with the local Lubavitch community.

My hosts had invited a few couples to their home. Although not at my instigation, the conversation turned to religion, and one of the men there kept asking seemingly facetious questions about tefillin: “Why couldn’t they be round?” “Who said that they had to be black?” etc. etc. The “evening” ended at about 2:00 AM. As we were saying goodbye, I said to the man who had been asking the questions: “I suppose that you have a special interest in tefillin; is that was why you were asking those questions about them?”

He didn’t own a pair of tefillin, but if someone gave him a pair, he would put them on regularly

“I haven’t put on tefillin for over 20 years!” was his reply.

“But you should!” I responded.

He then said: “Everyone here is now going home to sleep, but I am going to work. I own a bakery, and we work all through the night. If you want me to put on tefillin, you can come to my bakery at about 6:30 AM. At that time we are between bakes, and I’ll put on tefillin.”

I must admit that this was not my style, but I could not refuse, so at 6:30 Wednesday morning I arrived at his bakery with tefillin, prayerbook and skullcap, and amongst the sacks of flour he put on tefillin. What surprised me was that he needed no help—he knew exactly what to do and what to say.

After he finished, I said to him: “You obviously know how to put on tefillin, and you know the blessings and the prayers. Why don’t you do it regularly?” He told me that he didn’t own a pair of tefillin, and it was not one of his priorities to buy a pair—but if someone gave him a pair of tefillin, he would put them on regularly. I answered that I was returning to England via New York, but I expected to be back in Detroit in about six weeks, and that I would bring him a pair of tefillin.

Late that evening I flew to New York, and stayed overnight in Crown Heights. Thursday morning I prayed with the Rebbe, and sent in a note to him. I wrote to the Rebbe about the business discussions, and about the episode with the man in Detroit and the tefillin. I concluded the note by telling the Rebbe that I was returning to London that evening (Thursday night), and that I was especially looking forward to Shabbat, since our entire family would be staying with us in our London home: my daughter, her husband and three children from London; my daughter, her husband and baby from New York; and my son, who was studying in Israel and would be home prior to returning to New York. This was the first time that the whole family, including the grandchildren, was to be together for a Shabbat.

After praying, I went to Manhattan. My intention was to return to Brooklyn in time to pray the afternoon prayers with the Rebbe, and then go to the airport for my journey home.

A little while before the afternoon prayers I returned to the Rebbe’s headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, where the Rebbe’s secretary told me that he had been trying to reach me, as he had a reply to my note to the Rebbe.

In his reply the Rebbe gave a blessing for the business discussions, but then wrote: “Do you think it is right that a Jew who put on tefillin yesterday for the first time in over twenty years should wait another six weeks for you to buy him a pair of tefillin so that he could perform the mitzvah again? You should buy the tefillin today, and if you can arrange to get them to him in Detroit in time for him to put them on today, fine; if not, you should personally return to Detroit today with the tefillin, so that he can put them on in good time. You should do this even if it means not being with your family for Shabbat.” The Rebbe then wrote: “And when this Jew sees how important it is for you that he does not miss even one day putting on tefillin, this mitzvah will have a special importance to him.”

“If not, you should personally return to Detroit today with the tefillin, so that he can put them on in good time!”

There were a number of problems. It was the period of exchange control in England, and one could take only a small amount of currency out of the country; I had used up all my allowance, so I had only a small amount of money with me. I certainly didn’t have enough money to also buy a new airline ticket. The second problem was obtaining a pair of tefillin in Crown Heights. First I tried Lubavitch Youth’s office, but they had none; then the Judaica store Drimmers, who were out of stock. Finally, I was able to buy a pair at a store on Kingston Avenue—the last pair they had—against my check. Then I phoned American Airlines, who would transport them. Next I called the person with whom I had stayed Tuesday night in Detroit, who said he would collect them at the airport and deliver them in time to the person for whom they were intended. One of the yeshivah students gave me a lift to La Guardia Airport, and the tefillin were put on the plane to Detroit.

I left for London only after advising the Rebbe what had been arranged, and after waiting to hear that they had been collected and delivered in Detroit.

A few months later, I met this person again in Detroit, and asked him how he was doing with the tefillin. He told me that he had not missed a day—even walking home in the snow one day when his car broke down so that he put on the tefillin before sundown. He said: “Because of the trouble you went to in order that I should receive the tefillin the very next day, they are especially important to me.”

Almost the exact words that the Rebbe had written to me.

© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
bak dallas July 11, 2014

i spent several shabats with my yeshiva buddy yosef in southfield, mi. during mid 70s. mr. rader was also a frequent guest. his stories were captivating, told in his mellow british accent. he was working on an electronic pest control system. many lost thousands in his scheme. how many mitzvot are needed to cover our avaros? Reply

david dietz January 24, 2013

Very nice. Reply

Richard M Marcus Boca Raton FL. January 18, 2013

Chabad: One of the things I admire about about Chabad is its openness. They find out that you're a Jew - (man or woman), and immediately, you're in..part o' the tribe!! As the songs title says, "you'll never walk alone". Reply

Anonymous Seattle January 16, 2013

Interesting, but something is missing Obviously the man used to lay tefillin -- why had he stopped? Or, if indeed he had not been regular in his observance, how did he know the procedure? Surely a fuller account would add to our understanding and provide greater insight. Reply

Joel Battle Mountain NV January 16, 2013

The first time in Tefillin is never your last I'll never forget the first time, I was a member of a reform temple and I wandered into a Chabad because the reform movement just didn't fulfill my Jewishness. When I walked in a Rabbi started small conversation with me before services and as services started the Rabbi came over and told me he was going to 'wrap me up'. I can't explain how I felt during that service, there aren't words to describe the fullness I felt not emotional rather spiritual within me. I attended services several times after that hoping that I would be given the chance to wear them again since I didn't have my own. There were never any available for me, so I had to send away for my own. I now carry them everywhere I travel and don them always. That first day in the Chabad opened up my Jewishness. I realized that if you call yourself a reform Jew, or any other liberal movement, you are only building a fence around yourself and saying this is as far as my Jewishness goes. Going to Chabad you remove the fences. Reply

Anonymous Arizona January 16, 2013

Like no armor can compare The armor we have to gird us against life's troubles is like no other. Tefillin is a gift that settles our body, focuses our mind , protects our spirit and uplifting our hearts like nothing else. Reply

Devorah Leah Boise, ID January 15, 2013

Such a Powerful Idea - to Share and Extend Oneself This story brought tears to my eyes. I have personally experienced the Chabad Jewish Community, so very small, here in Idaho -- extending to teach me and reach me, to lift up my children and help us learn Torah. It is the smallest acts of someone extending themselves to help another connect with G-d...a trickle impact that in turn, reaches generations.

Thank you for sharing this story and reminding me of all who continue to reach and teach me here! Reply

Ruth Krieger Boca Raton, Fl January 14, 2013

Good For Business When the Detroit Council of Rabbis wanted a baker to get supervision at his new location, he declined because he insisted Shabbos closing would hurt his business. My husband and I were given tickets to the next Vaad dinner and when we were seated, the gift's reason was apparent. The baker was at our table. I convinced him the supervision would only increase his business and promised a newspaper story as well. He agreed. The wonderful baker and his wife moved to a home across the street from ours and joined the shul. Through the deepest snows, in the greatest rains, the baker could be seen going to shul every Shabbos. He had survived the Holocaust and his health was fragile. His bakery still does a great business today although he has gone to collect his eternal reward. Reply

Anonymous USA January 14, 2013

Another Day Without Tefillin This is a good story. One to meditate on. It is good to make another person feel that someone cares for their wellbeing, spiritual as well as materially. Only an ignorant person would not appreciate what have been done for him/her. And I say ignorant, because when we do not know Torah, we do not know Hashem, blessed be, and when we do not know Hashem, we do not know His kindness. Our Master, Father, and King is a good G-d. Blessed be His Name. He is a loving Father. Don't we all want to be home with Him? When we call upon him He will answer our call. Reply

Eric Sander Kingston North Hollywood, CA January 14, 2013

When the Power of our deeds matches our Intentions lives are changed for the better! Reply

Anonymous February 2, 2009

tefilin There is a rabbi in c.t. that did the exact thing also. Chabad truly reaches out...... Reply

Daniel Weiss chicago, il November 23, 2008

fascinating fascinating Reply