It was a warm spring day in 1995. I was in Israel visiting my father, who was 90 years old and was not doing very well. He was seriously ill.

He had been living in Kfar Chabad for a number of years. Now, he was going in for an operation for which he was no candidate. Still, it was the only thing that could possibly save his life. So we went ahead with it.

I was at his side in the empty prep room in the hospital, saying Tehillim (Psalms) and vidui (final confessional prayers). The room was silent. Just the two of us.

Suddenly—and this could happen only in Israel—someone abruptly swung open the door and jabbed his head in. It was a very bemedalled fifty-something man. A high-ranking officer—a colonel or general, I think—in the Air Force.

“What are you looking for?”

“I'm looking for my friend.” Or something like that.

“Would you give my father a berachah (blessing)?”

He laughed.

“I’d like you to give my father a blessing.”

He looked very puzzled.

“You’re in the Air Force, right? You’re prepared, twenty-four hours a day, to give your life to defend your fellow Jews in this country . . .”

“Of course.”

“Then please bless my father. You have a special power. The Rebbe holds the soldiers of the IDF in very high regard. He has said that you have a special power to bless your fellow Jews, because of your self-sacrifice to defend the people of Israel.”

So he pulled his beret out of his shoulder lapel, and put it on his head.

I had him repeat the priestly blessing after me, word for word: May G‑d bless you and keep watch over you. May G‑d shine His countenance to you and grant you grace. May G‑d lift His countenance to you and grant you peace.

The man was crying.

I then asked him, “Did you have a chance to put on tefillin today?” No.

So I put on tefillin with him.

I carry a pair of tefillin with me wherever I go. I’ve adopted the American Express Card motto, “Don’t leave home without it!” You never know who might come along—and the power one Jew and one mitzvah can unleash. I ask you: how remote is the possibility of putting on tefillin with a fellow Jew in the empty anesthesia room in the distant corner of an Israeli hospital?

My father shortly went into the operating room. He passed away after the operation, never regaining consciousness. But the very last sight my dear father saw before he left this world was his son putting on tefillin with an Israeli Air Force officer, the symbol of Israel’s physical might, but most of all, a fellow Jew. Imagine the nachas.

My father may not have survived. But one thing is certain: The officer’s blessing and mitzvah of tefillin had power. I’m sure they helped someone, somewhere in Israel, not to mention the powerful spiritual charge to the officer himself.