Take and Give| March 14, 2023
How could someone fly home with the words “Ahavas Israel — Spare Tefillin” staring him in the face?
ON Friday, a package containing a pair of tefillin arrived at the shul. It had traveled 1,233 miles, and didn’t contain any note or word of explanation.
Why would someone mail a pair of tefillin to the shul?
Were they donating a pair for a person without the means to pay for his own tefillin?
No, they were not.
Was this a special gift for a special person?
No, it was not.
The answer is simple: No note was enclosed because the sender figured these tefillin speak for themselves. Yes, sometimes tefillin — or at least the velvet bag they are placed in — communicate all there is to know.
Embroidered on the front of this pouch, in big letters, are the words: “Ahavas Israel — Spare Tefillin.” Obviously, I was witnessing a case of hashavas aveidah. Yet as I looked at the tefillin in the box, I was filled with a case of strong ambivalence.
On the one hand, how could someone fly home with the words “Ahavas Israel — Spare Tefillin” staring him in the face?
But there was another side to consider as well.
After all, the returned tefillin represented a Yid who realized his mistake and corrected it by mailing them back.
My emotions vacillated from rage to respect and admiration.
This wasn’t the first time our spare tefillin had disappeared. As the shul has 11 minyanim just for Shacharis, I realized years ago that we needed to have spare tefillin on hand, and through personal requests, the shul acquired four pairs of spare tefillin, including one Sephardic pair and one for left-handers.
All four pairs are used daily — often multiple times a day.
Some regulars forget their tefillin at home.
Sometimes people don’t expect to sleep over and need tefillin.
And there are always travelers coming and going on delayed flights to and from Newark airport.
In short, there’s never a lack of men using and appreciating the spare tefillin.
However, the fact that they are often left around the shul is frustrating. There’s a small bookshelf in the upstairs beis medrash where the spare tefillin are kept. But more often than I care to remember, I’ve found the spare tefillin in various wrong places around the shul.
The spare tefillin were found more than once unwound on the lobby table.
They have been located in one of the coatrooms.
These discoveries were upsetting, and I have had to suppress my urge to become angry. Why couldn’t people return the tefillin to where they took them from? Shouldn’t we all be more careful with tefillin that don’t belong to us?
Yet I tried to be understanding; no doubt the person was running to catch a flight and forgot to return them to their proper place. But as I held the tefillin in my hands, I fought back the urge to react with annoyance. How could you possibly take tefillin embroidered with the words “Ahavas Israel — Spare Tefillin” back with you on a plane?
Before me lay a pair of tefillin that had been taken 1,233 miles away!
Isn’t that shocking?
However, they had also been returned.
Is that not praiseworthy?
I repressed my negative feelings and replaced them with more positive ones.
I realized I am not perfect either.
I attempted to focus on the fact that the taker was now a true baal teshuvah.
Finally, I realized what I had to do.
I opened the bag, lovingly grasped the tefillin, and kissed each one as I said, “Welcome home. We missed you.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 953)
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