Yigael Yadin (1917–1984) was a well-known Israeli archeologist and politician, and the second chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces.

At the age of fifteen he joined the Haganah (pre–State of Israel Jewish paramilitary organization), and served in various military positions during Israel’s War of Independence. He was appointed chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces in 1949.

At age thirty-five he left the military, and while he never completely left public life, he began his life’s work in archeology. As an archeologist, he excavated some of the most important sites in the region.

The following story is a translation from his book Chavayotav Shel Archeolog Yehudi.

Shortly after the Six-Day War, I purchased an antique object for the Shrine of the Book, a division of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The article I purchased turned out to be an ancient tefillin with all four of its parshiot (tefillin scrolls). This tefillin was later verified to be the oldest known tefillin in existence today, written during the Second Temple era.

The ancient script was exceptionally small. When certain questions arose regarding these tefillin, it was necessary for the scrolls to be analyzed by equipment which at the time was to be found only in the central police lab in Tel Aviv. So, one day, carrying photocopies of the tefillin scrolls that had not yet been seen by anybody but myself, I found myself riding the train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.

Kfar Chabad is one of the stops on the way. At the Kfar Chabad station, some young men boarded the train and starting making the rounds through the train’s cars. I was actually used to this scene: the Chabadniks would go from person to person, trying to get people to lay tefillin.

Soon it was my turn to be approached. I politely refused, but couldn’t help noticing the foreign accent of the young man who asked me to lay tefillin.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

He informed me that he was a recent immigrant from the Soviet Union.

“And did you lay tefillin in the Soviet Union?” I wondered aloud.

“I’ve been laying tefillin every day since my bar mitzvah.”

When I heard that, I reconsidered. “If you did this mitzvah in the repressive Soviet Union, I won’t be the one to refuse you now . . .”

Before getting off the train in Tel Aviv, a woman approached me. “Professor Yadin, I am glad that you agreed to the request of that young man—who obviously did not recognize who you are.

Putting on tefillin on the train from Kfar Chabad to Tel Aviv
Putting on tefillin on the train from Kfar Chabad to Tel Aviv

“You see, my son, also a Chabadnik, was a paratrooper who was mortally wounded in battle near the Suez Canal. Before he died, the members of his platoon visited him in the hospital. His last request of them was that they lay tefillin. In my mind, when you donned tefillin today, you too joined in fulfilling my son’s last request.”

I found myself fighting back tears. “What a remarkable chain of events!” I told her. “I have in my pocket photocopies of the oldest known existing tefillin. I cannot think of anything more appropriate than to show them to you at this moment!”

Editor’s note: The fallen hero referenced in this story was Rabbi David Marasow, a resident of Kfar Chabad. Immediately after the Six-Day War, his widow, Shifra, spearheaded the Chabad effort to benefit the widows and orphans of the soldiers who perished during the war. She arranged holiday programs, a camp, and grand bar and bat mitzvahs for the orphans. Following the war, the family of every slain soldier received a financial compensation package from the government. Mrs. Marasow (Golombovitz) selflessly used this money allotted to her to purchase tefillin for all the orphans!