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Saved by Tefillin—Literally!

Blog.jpgWhen I asked Shimon Yifrach—who was injured by terrorist gunfire in 2016—to put on tefillin last Friday, he proudly told me that he already had. In fact, he had a tefillin story he wanted to tell me.

“I used to serve in the Border Patrol Unit, and in early 2016 I was stationed in a place called Aram in Kalandia,” he began. “One morning I had the urge to put on tefillin but I didn’t follow through. It weighed on my mind and later in the day an inner voice told me, ‘Go put on tefillin!’ I brushed it off but it persisted. I told my fellow soldiers that I was stepping aside for a minute, and I moved away from the massive concrete security block I had been standing behind.

“Literally seconds after I stepped aside, a terrorist driving a heavy commercial vehicle drove full-speed into the concrete slab, hitting it with such force that it moved at least six feet! I was so close that the vehicle grazed my hand. Imagine what would have happened had I still been standing there! There’s no way I could have survived that.

“I have no doubt the tefillin saved my life. Since then, I try to put on tefillin every day, including today!” The Torah (Deuteronomy 28:10) proclaims, “The nations of the world will see that the name of Hashem is upon you and they will fear you.” The Talmud explains that this refers to tefillin which have the power to inspire fear in the hearts of our enemies.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe initiated the tefillin campaign right before the six-day war, calling upon Jews worldwide—regardless of religious affiliation—to begin putting on tefillin, even if they had never done so. He directed his chassidim in Israel to visit army bases and put on tefillin with the soldiers. Days later the war began, and Israel defeated the heavily armed Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies with record speed.

Indeed, tefillin have the power to literally save lives. We saw it with the six-day war and my friend Shimon experienced it himself.

So, what are you waiting for? Go put on tefillin! 

What Do You Hear?

Laurel vs. Yanny.

It’s arguably the most controversial internet sensation since the white-and-gold vs. blue-and-black dress debate of 2015! People are hooked. 

When you sit next to someone and listen to the same clip, you expect to hear the same words. To hear something so vastly different is eerie and disconcerting.

The explanation, however, is simple: "People who are more attuned to the high frequencies are picking up on things that make it sound more like Yanny. If you're not picking up on those higher frequencies then it sounds more like Laurel," explains linguist Ben Zimmer. 

As unusual as it seems, this very idea is present in our everyday lives. Kabbala teaches that there are two ways to hear everything we experience in life: lower frequency (daat tachton) and higher frequency (daat elyon).

Imagine losing your job. One way to hear the news is through pain, despair, and frustration. Alternatively, one might hear: “This is G-d’s will and is ultimately for the best. Nothing bad descends from above. G-d loves me and will provide a new and better opportunity.”

Imagine being dumped by a long-term partner. Hearing via the lower frequency will fill you with thoughts of, “Why did he do this to me?! I’m doomed to be alone forever.” The higher frequency will convey messages such as, “Obviously that was not the right person for me and G-d will send me the right husband in due time.”

Imagine that Hamas spreads lies and falsehoods, claiming that Israeli soldiers are butchering  their innocent civilians. Newspaper headlines all over the world scream, “Israeli Soldiers Kill Innocent Palestinians.” One way to hear is to despair. The other way is to recognize that this is an opportunity for Jews to bond, unite, pray, and trust that G-d will help as He always does.  

This weekend we celebrate Shavuot, when G-d married us in an incredible display of affection. We became and remain His eternal bride. That everlasting union guarantees He will not forsake us, even when things seem bleak.

Unlike with the Laurel/Yanny clip, over which we have no control, we can determine how we perceive world events and G-d’s presence. So as we begin the holiday which commemorates the exact moment we became His nation, what will you hear?

I Won the Powerball!

Blog.jpgEach spring for the last nine years 40 motorcycle riders have volunteered their time to treat our Belev Echad wounded soldiers to a picturesque bike ride through the Bear Mountains, followed by a hearty barbecue. My dear friend Yoske is one of them.

Yoske and I share a mutual love and passion for Israel, and anytime I need anything at all he is just a phone call away, always happy to help. But despite our deep respect for each other, when it comes to religion and G-d we are worlds apart. No matter how many times I’ve asked Yoske to put on tefillin, he has always refused. 

In the days leading up to this year’s bike ride, all weather forecasts predicted a 90% chance of rain, which meant we would have to cancel the much anticipated activity. If it rains, no one wants to spend the day riding through the mountains! But no matter how many times I refreshed the page, the forecast stayed the same: dismal.

Two days prior to the event, I bumped into Yoske and noticed—to my shock—that he was wearing a kippa. Not only has he never worn a kippa at any of our events over the last nine years, when I slip one on his head he slips it right off again.

“Why are you wearing it?” I asked.

“We need help for a dry Sunday,” he explained.

“Let’s make a deal,” I suggested, sensing a moment of opportunity. “I will pray that it doesn’t rain, but you have to promise to put on tefillin if it doesn’t.”

He agreed. We shook hands and parted ways. 

Now, when a Chabad rabbi gets somebody to put on tefillin it’s like winning the jackpot. When a Jew puts on tefillin, we are connecting him to the deepest levels of G-d—a level of connection even the highest angels cannot attain. So, if putting on tefillin with a Jew is like winning the jackpot, then putting on tefillin with a Jew who has refused my advances for the last nine years is like winning a double jackpot, and putting on tefillin with a Jew who has not done it since his bar mitzvah 57 years ago… that is like winning the powerball! 

I mentioned my deal with Yoske in my Shabbat speech. “We all need to pray for rain so that I win the powerball!” I beseeched. And pray we did, but when I checked the forecast after Shabbat, rain was still in the plan. The likelihood did decrease from 90% to 60%, but 60% is still significant.

When I saw no sign of rain Sunday morning, I was thrilled, and asked Yoske to put on tefillin. 
“We have to wait until the end of the day to make sure it stays dry,” he insisted.

Well, G-d helped, and the day proved dry and completely rain-free. True to his word, Yoske put on tefillin and said the shma—triple jackpot!

I hope he will put on Tefillin again the next time I see him, even without any bets!

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