“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a frontlet between your eyes” Devarim 6:5 – 8
I sit there and watch him concentrate, his forehead wrinkled with effort. My son, the eldest child of my heart, is putting on his tefillin for the first time. I have already told him to expect the tears to fall, after all I am a mother who loves so deeply. I watch him lovingly and excitedly open his tallit bag, and gently remove the two tefillin boxes with their various straps. His eyes dance excitedly as he looks up briefly to check that I am watching him. He explains what he is doing as he goes along, for my benefit as much as to remind himself what he is doing.
He rolls up his left sleeve, and folds the sleeve to be just so. He carefully removes the tefillin from its storage box, and kisses it with holy reverence. He slides it up his arm and positions it in the right place. He gives me a goofy grin as he starts to wind the straps around his arm in the time honored fashion. He redoes it a few times to make the spaces as even as can be.
I am catapulted down memory lane, remembering the day my older brother put on tefillin, the same earnest look of concentration, the same joy in participating in a man’s mitzvah. They look nothing alike, my son and his uncle, yet at that moment their eyes share the same knowledge of being accepted into a new circle, the brotherhood of MAN.
The shel yad is almost done, but the shel rosh has to be put in place before it’s all finished. Out comes the trusty tefillin mirror to aid him in placing it correctly. The sofer showed him how to use his fingers in such a way to check that it is placed properly. He looks up at me and sees the tears streaming down my face. He rolls his eyes, but gently, knowing that I wouldn’t be Ima if this didn’t touch me so deeply. He looks so proud, so thrilled with the mitzvah that will be his to do very soon. He is shining, he is performing this mitzvah with such joy and love. I am proud that I have raised him for this, that I have helped him connect with the traditions of his forefathers.
My camera is snapping away, but the pictures I see with my own eyes are indelibly traced in my soul. What an honour and a privilege to watch my own child put on tefillin. He is finally finishing with the shel yad, and is triumphant at getting it right the first time. He stands tall and allows me to drink him in, my son the barmitzvah boy, my son who is about to become a man. Never have I witnessed such joy and simcha upon doing a mitzvah, never have I felt a part of something so huge, so tied to my Jewish identity.
At this moment he is holy, he is consecrated to G-d, we both feel G-d’s presence in this room and in our hearts. This mitzvah that he has performed, and will continue to do every week day for the rest of his life, will connect his mind and his heart and his soul to do the service of Hashem.
My wish for him is that every day that he lays tefillin he will feel the joy that he feels today, he will feel the call of the ancestors to carry on our traditions, and that he will pass these traditions on to the next generation.
Mazel Tov my son, Mazel Tov.