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Imperfect Tefillin

Eliyahu Turgeman of Israel visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe for the first time in 1981, during which time he also entered into “yechidut,” a private audience with the Rebbe. At the conclusion of this meeting, the Rebbe advised him to inspect his tefillin and mezuzot, parchments inscribed with holy verses that are wrapped around the head and arm or attached to the doorpost.

Veteran chassidim informed Eliyahu that an instruction like this from the Rebbe should be carried out right away. Therefore, he did not wait for his return trip to Israel, but immediately called his wife in their home in Netanya, and instructed her to remove all the mezuzot from their doors and bring them to a sofer, a scribe, to inspect. His tefillin, which he had with him in New York, were brought to a sofer as soon as he returned to Israel.

After inspecting them, the sofer told Eliyahu that his mezuzot were all kosher but not exceptionally so. Eliyahu wanted only the best quality mezuzot to hang in his home, so he purchased all new mezuzot. His tefillin, on the other hand, were found to be perfectly in order. The sofer did not find a single thing wrong with them, and told Eliyahu that they were an exceptionally fine pair.

“This can’t be,” said Eliyau with certainty. “The Rebbe did not have me inspect them for no reason.”

The sofer shrugged his shoulders. “I did not find anything wrong. If you want, I can send them to another sofer and see if he finds a problem.”

Eliyahu sent a letter to the Rebbe to clarify his next step. The reply was not long in coming: He should inspect his tefillin to ensure that they are kosher according to Jewish law.

If until now Eliyahu had any doubts, they were now confirmed: there definitely was a problem with his tefillin. Otherwise the Rebbe would not have recommended a second time that he have them checked.

This time Eliyahu brought his tefillin to a senior sofer in Kfar Chabad, who also could not find a problem. Another sofer he visited told him that the tefillin themselves were fine, but perhaps he should get wider straps. These, however, were not strictly necessary, the sofer reassured him, as the ones he already had were perfectly kosher.

Eliyahu was left feeling somewhat frustrated and confused. He had a clear sensation that his tefillin were not quite in order, but he had visited no less than three sofers and none found a problem.

Years passed. Eliyahu was in France for a relative’s wedding, and was riding on the subway when he suddenly felt his heart beating unusually fast. He felt very ill and immediately went to a local doctor.

The doctor advised him to return to Israel as soon as possible to undergo a round of tests.

Eliyahu quickly arranged for his return trip to Israel, and underwent a thorough cardiac exam. To his surprise, the doctors could not find a problem. They could not explain the sudden attack he had had in France.

A few days later Eliyahu felt the same symptoms come on again. His body began to shake and he was unable to catch his breath. He started to fear leaving his house, and stayed home except to visit various doctors, none of whom could explain what was wrong.

One thought came to his mind: the tefillin. Yet once more, he packed them up and took them to be inspected by a sofer. He had heard that it was very important to make sure that the tefillin boxes were perfectly square, and he asked the sofer to shave and sharpen the corners.

The sofer he chose this time was Rabbi Ziss of Netanya. He shaved the tefillin boxes as requested, and then noticed a stain on the tefillin. “What is this?” he asked Eliyahu when he came to pick up his tefillin.

“You are asking me?” replied Eliyahu. “I thought you were supposed to know.”

Rabbi Ziss inspected the tefillin from all sides, and after a moment of thought, he opened the tefillin boxes, removed the parchment and then sprinkled in a few drops of alcohol.

“Do you see this?” he pointed out to Eliyahu. “I am very sorry to tell you, Reb Eliyahu, but your tefillin are not kosher!” Rabbi Ziss explained that while the tefillin boxes were being made, a hold had formed, which someone tried to repair using scraps of parchment and glue. “However, the seal was not done properly, as demonstrated by the alcohol I just dropped in, which leaked through.” 

Eliyahu concludes, “The end of the story is that I bought a new set of tefillin, and since then I never experienced those strange heart palpitations again. I have been perfectly healthy since, which I hope will continue, with G-d’s help, until the immediate Redemption.”

 

 


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