As Benjy finished unpacking the suitcase at their honeymoon hotel, he let out a groan.
“Oh no, I can’t believe it. I left my tefillin back home.”
Having only recently married, Benjy and his kallah had packed a joint suitcase for the first time, which might have explained the omission, but he still couldn’t believe he’d forgotten them.
Since his bar mitzva, 15 years previously, he’d never gone a day without putting on his tefillin, and he certainly didn’t want to start married life on the wrong foot.
Tefillin had always been a special mitzva to Benjy. He had used this mitzva to interest youngsters who were far removed from anything Jewish in davening and Yidddishkeit. He’d been a madrich for Birthright for many years, even receiving an award for being one of the most frequently used madrichim in the American program. He was usually the only religious person in his group.
Birthright is not a religious organization and doesn’t push a religious agenda at all. But Benjy had always used his position to try and encourage an interest in mitzvos. He wanted to show the participants that even kids in shorts, T-shirts, and baseball caps, who enjoyed sports and adventures, could be religious. He made a special point of davening Shacharis in public so the teens in his groups could see him put on his tefillin; sometimes on the bus when they set off in the morning, perhaps in the middle of the desert after a night under the stars in the Negev, even on the top of Masada after an awe-inspiring predawn climb. His intention was to invite at the least curiosity and glances, and preferably, as often happened, an interest which led other boys in the group to ask if they could try on the tefillin.
He was sure that the sight of him putting on tefillin had led more than one participant to ask for a “bar mitzva” when they reached Jerusalem and the Kosel, and some had even decided to stay on a few weeks and listen in to a few shiurim at Aish HaTorah.
But what could he do now? He was a long way from home, and there didn’t seem to be anyone in sight who could help.
He and his kalla had taken a seaside hotel room for a few days on the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean. The vacation had been bought with miles he had accrued over the last years, and had saved for after his wedding and sheva brachos week.
Now he wracked his brains, trying to think how he could manage to lay tefillin on this remote island. The first address he thought of was Chabad. Surely they had to have a representative somewhere – they were everywhere, helping Jews of all stripes perform mitzvos, eat a kosher meal, and often just survive – but no, there was no Chabad House on the island.
Benjy and his kalla hadn’t relied on Chabad for general amenities. Realizing that they would be far from civilization and kosher food, they had packed plenty of fresh and canned food, as well as making sure there was a microwave in their room which they knew how to kasher.
To add to their discomfort, he and his new wife were not impressed either by the room they were given nor by the hotel itself, so they decided to transfer to another hotel further along the coast. After unpacking a second time, they went for a walk along the private beach that belonged to the hotel.
Suddenly, to their tremendous surprise, they saw a young, obviously frum couple coming towards them. Benjy quickly ran over to the husband and explained his situation, begging him to let him use his tefillin before it was too late, and asking if he could perhaps borrow them for the next few days as well, until the other couple left the island.
The man explained that they were about to leave for home – Benjy’s heart dropped – but he had an even better suggestion.
“I always travel with a spare pair of tefillin and leave my regular ones at home. Do you live near Brooklyn?”
“Yes, sure, we live in New York.”
“Well then, I’m going to leave these tefillin with you. You can keep them throughout your stay and then return them to me when you get back home.”
Benjy could not believe his “luck.” He was sure that Hakadosh Baruch Hu had helped him perform this mitzva in the merit of the many times he himself had used it to encourage others to explore their heritage.
Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Press