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A Jew from Miami

In I967, before the Six Day War, the Rebbe introduced the first of ten mitzvah campaigns—mivtza tefillin, the campaign to encourage Jews to put on tefillin. At the time many people wondered—why the public campaign? Why tefillin?

As an answer, the Rebbe quoted a verse in the Torah: “And the nations of the world will see the name of G-d upon you and they will fear you.” Shortly thereafter, war broke out in Israel. The people were terrified. The pessimists were predicting heavy losses. Everyone who had a friend or a relative in Israel was calling to convince them to take a plane to the United States, to safety.

But the Rebbe did not fall prey to panic. He was the one voice of calm, who reassured the people that they would experience miracles. He declared that the campaign to get Jewish men to put on tefillin would protect the Jews of Israel and bring about salvation.

Of course, the outcome of the war is well-known. It ended with a decisive victory for Israel, a true physical and spiritual triumph.

In the aftermath of the war, people offered various explanations for why the Rebbe chose specifically the mitzvah of tefillin. Reb Bentzion Rader, a Chabad chassid and an accountant from England, was among those who was asked about the meaning behind the campaign. He explained the matter to the best of his ability but decided to take up the matter with the Rebbe himself.

Later that year, he was in New York and took the opportunity to have yechidut, a private audience with the Rebbe. He asked the Rebbe what to answer when people would ask why the Rebbe started the tefillin campaign. The Rebbe replied that there were two reasons for his choice. The first reason is that there is a tractate in Rosh Hashanah which states that wearing tefillin on the head even once can protect a person from severe punishment. The second reason the Rebbe gave was, "When a Jew in Miami sees pictures of Jews at the Western Wall wearing tefillin, he gets an urge to put on tefillin himself."

The first explanation sounded clear and plausible to Mr. Rader. But the second explanation sounded quite strange. Would it convince anyone to put on tefillin at the Wall, just for the chance that a Jew in Miami might see the picture and do likewise?

Seven years passed since then, and Mr. Rader’s business affairs continued to prosper. In 1974, he received a call from an American who many years previously had done business in England and had been a client of his. This man was now living in Miami, and his firm’s accountant wanted to discuss certain aspects of the business with Mr. Rader. They asked him to fly to Miami for a meeting.

Mr. Rader agreed and several weeks later flew to Miami. He arrived late at night, and their meeting was scheduled for the early morning in Mr. Rader’s hotel. The next morning, the businessman arrived for his meeting with Mr. Rader. Thinking that he might be jet-lagged, the man knocked on Mr. Rader’s hotel room door. Receiving no answer, he entered and saw Mr. Rader praying with his tallit and tefillin. He waited patiently until Mr. Rader was finished and then they sat down for their meeting over breakfast.

The client mentioned to his accountant that he had found Mr. Rader that morning in a prayer shawl with “boxes” on his head.

"You put on tefillin?" the American accountant asked.

"Yes!" answered Mr. Rader. "Don't you?"

"I haven't put on tefillin since I was Bar Mitzvah in New York fifty years ago," he said. "But recently I saw a photograph of Jews at the Western Wall wearing tefillin and had an urge to put on tefillin myself."

At that moment, the words that the Rebbe had said to Mr. Rader seven years earlier rang in his ears. "When a Jew in Miami sees pictures of Jews at the Western Wall wearing tefillin, he gets an urge to put on tefillin himself."

After the meeting Mr. Rader offered the accountant to put on tefillin, and he accepted. For the first time in 50 years.
 

 


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