Don’t Assume the Guy with the Yarmulke Put on Tefillin

Article by Rabbi Mendy Katz of the Aleph Institute: “The time has come to do mivtzoim on our own communities. We must ask ask everyone we meet, even those wearing yarmulkes, even family members, even former classmates and friends, if they put on Tefillin that day. 

By Rabbi Mendy Katz, Director of Military and Prison Outreach for Aleph

The time has come for Lubavitchers to start doing Mivtzoyim with our own. The focus of Mivtzoyim has always been with non religious Jews living outside of our communities. Times have changed and we now have to focus on our own communities as well.

First and foremost, we must put in more time, effort and much more love and attention towards those from our own communities who are no longer frum. We all know who they are, but we chose to focus our outreach efforts towards strangers instead of our very own. Instead of just going down the block to ask our own neighbor (who we know is no longer frum) to put on Tefillin, we take a train to Manhattan to try to find a lost Jew. Of course we have to keep on doing Mivtzoyim with strangers but let’s focus on our own as well.

Most of the people who grew up frum still have a love for Yiddishkeit and they are waiting for you to come and ask them to put on Tefillin. They would be so touched if you invited them to a Shabbos meal. Why do we ignore the spiritual needs of the Jews right under our noses to go and stop random people on the street to ask them if they are Jewish?

I grew up with Mivtzah Tefillin in my blood. My earliest childhood memories are going on Mivtzoyim with my father on Lincoln Road. My father never left home without his Tefilin and never took no for an answer. Most times he never even asked the person if he wanted to put on Tefillin. As soon as he knew the man was Jewish, the Tefillin were already on his head. Planes, trains, buses, it did not matter, the Tefillin were always there for the ready.

I naturally followed in my father’s footsteps and would always take my Tefillin everywhere and always asked everyone to put on Tefillin. As I got older, I began to slack a little and did not always ask people everywhere. For example, I would not always ask people on planes to put on Tefillin.  

Around ten years ago, I was at a weekend Bar Mitzvah in Colorado, and most of the people at the Bar Mitzvah were not frum. I spent Friday and Sunday putting on Tefillin with everyone and spent all Shabbos farbrenging with people trying to get them to commit to put on Tefillin more often.

On the way back from the Bar Mitzvah, I missed my flight by 2 minutes. I was stuck in the Denver airport for 12 hours without a morsel of kosher food. As soon as I turned around from the gate, I see a Jew who was at the same Bar Mitzvah all weekend, and even though he was a 40 year old Persian Jew and attended many bar mitzvahs, he never put on Tefillin in his life. He also missed his flight and he put on Tefillin right there at gate C42 in the Denver airport. It was clear to me that both of us had to miss our flights in order for him to put on Tefillin. I arranged for him to get his own pair of Tefillin and he also had his first Aliya later that week in NYC.

A few days later, on a Shabbos afternoon, my one year old daughter found her way out of the front door of a friend’s house and walked into the middle of a very busy street. A car slammed on the brakes and the driver put his car in park and picked up my daughter and saved her life. From then on, I promised that I would never leave home without my Tefillin, and would always ask people to put on Tefillin whenever, whoever and however, in order to thank G-d for saving my daughter’s life.

Recently I started noticing that many of the people that you would assume put on Tefillin daily, actually do not.

First I thought it was a fluke, and it’s just people that are not really so frum even though they wear a yarmulke. Then I realized that there are those who are really frum but just forgot to put on Tefillin  once or twice and it became normal for them to just forget to put on Tefillin. This has become a problem in the entire frum world, from the Modern Orthodox to Chabad to Satmar.

In the last few months I have attended many frum weddings and I bring my Tefillin. People would laugh at me and say you are never going to find anyone to put on Tefillin at this wedding. At each one of these events I find more and more frum people (Lubavitchers, Litvishe, Chassidim etc.) with yarmulkes that did not put on Tefillin. I can get 20 Tefillin at a frum wedding.

Even after this, I would still feel uncomfortable going over to a frum person I knew personally and see regularly to ask them if they had put on Tefillin that day (unless I knew for a fact that they do not always put on).

Last week I went to a small local simcha  and brought my Tefillin. There were only Lubavitchers there and I realized that there was no one else to ask and I would have to walk up to a full fledged yarmulke wearing, bearded Lubavitcher and ask him if he put on Tefillin. As it turns out, not only did he not put on Tefillin but he turned around to another Lubavitcher there and said to him “you also did not put on Tefillin today”. So now I had two Lubavitchers that at this tiny event that did not put on Tefillin. They both went to the side and put on and BH are now both putting on daily.

That night, I want to  another party with only frum people and I went around asking people if they has put on Tefillin just to see how many frum people struggle with Tefillin. There was a Litvishe guy who was clearly uncomfortable with the conversation and would not admit that he did not put on Tefillin but he engaged nonetheless. I did not know this person and we did not exchange phone numbers. Somehow he found my phone number and on Sunday morning I get a WhatsApp with a picture of him wearing Tefillin. He sent me a few voice notes explaining how he was embarrassed to admit that he was no longer careful about putting on Tefillin every day. Our conversation got him to realize that he can’t leave the house in the morning without putting on Tefillin anymore. All it took was one short sincere conversation to get him back on track.

There are thousands of frum Jewish men walking around your neighborhood or on the plane with you on or in the same hotel that you staying at that are quietly begging you to walk over to them and ask them if they put on Tefilin today. Please do not disappoint them, please do not disappoint their wives, their children, their parents. They are all counting on you to be the shliach to get their son, father, husband to put on Tefillin. After putting on Tefillin with them, you can encourage them to start prioritizing  putting on Tefillin daily before they leave the house.

Each and everyone of us has friends, relatives, classmates that we know are no longer putting on Tefillin. Pick up the phone and call them and ask them to put on Tefillin. Boruch Hashem, we Lubavitchers have been very successful in doing Mivtzoyim with strangers, we can be just as successful in doing Mivtzoyim with our friends and family.

If you are one of these frum people who has not been so careful with Tefillin, please take the time to put a daily alarm in your phone to remind yourself to put on Tefillin. Please do not leave your house before you put on Tefillin. It takes five minutes to put on Tefillin. Tefillin is your anchor, your connection to Hashem. Don’t drop your connection. There is a reason that the Rebbe was so preoccupied with Mivtzah Tefillin.

I can think of no better Hachlata for Yud Aleph Nissan 120 years then for every single Lubavitcher (especially Shluchim) to always carry Tefillin with them and to ask everyone they meet (even those wearing yarmulkes, even their own family members, even former classmates and friends) if they put on Tefillin that day. 

In keeping in line with the Rabbonim's policies for websites, we do not allow comments. However, our Rabbonim have approved of including input on articles of substance (Torah, history, memories etc.)

We appreciate your feedback. If you have any additional information to contribute to this article, it will be added below.

  1. This is truly beautiful!
    This obviously has to be asked in a sensitive way..
    I’d imagine most or many people would take it personally if they were asked and wearing a yarmulka.
    Please share how you do this that helps make people receptive and not embarrassed. Thank you and yasher koach!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

advertise package