By Rabbi Sharon Litwin
On Sunday, February 7, our Kitah Vav students in our Blanche Bayar Religious School, joined with the Men’s Club to celebrate the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs annual World Wide Wrap. Every year the Men’s Clubs of Conservative synagogues sponsor this event to bring awareness to the widely ignored or maligned Mitzvah of Tefillin.
I heard cries of “It will cut off my circulation!” “It looks so uncomfortable!” “Do I have to put them on?” “Why do we do this, no one I know wears Tefillin?!?”
“Just try it,” I told the students, “You don’t have to do it for the rest of your life, but you might like it!”
I was 20 years old, at a retreat with other students from the Hillel at Washington University and on the retreat we had a guest rabbi. She was the first woman rabbi I had ever met. In fact, before meeting Rabbi Marcia, I had heard about women rabbis…but only in books or newspapers.
One morning after services, I spoke to her about her Tefillin and she offered to let me put them on. We sat near the water and she taught me how to wrap them, how to say the blessings and put them just right on my head. And then she said, “Now, say the Shema and Ve’ahavta.” And I did. And when I got to the part in Ve’ahavta that states, “And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand and they shall be a symbol between your eyes,” I felt a jolt. I had said that paragraph thousands of times in my life, but never before with the physical reminder. I felt so much more connected to the mitzvah and so much more reminded that there are some times when actually doing something rather than just thinking about doing it is so much more powerful and grounding.
Since then, I was given a gift, my brother’s Bar Mitzvah Tefillin, which he gave to me just a few months later and I have worn regularly for over 20 years. I love that I have them, and I love when I put them on how I feel connected to the people who came before me in a way that I don’t think I would if I were just reciting the words without the actual Tefillin on my hand and head.
I don’t know if the World Wide Wrap had that kind of impact on our BBRS students, but I do hope that the program offers an introduction into a meaningful, ancient ritual, that doesn’t necessarily change the world, but can help to give a sense of spirituality and groundedness to its wearers.