Remembering Sharon, tefillin campaign of 1967

Special to the CJN | Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2014 10:00 am

The passing of Ariel Sharon takes me back to my childhood. When I was growing up in Israel in the ’70s, Arik Sharon was our hero. The legends of his battles during the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War were told and retold, glorified and exaggerated. In the eyes of a child, he was the ultimate defender of Israel, in the same league as the biblical Samson.

One of the most special conquests of the Six-Day War was the acquisition of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. For 18 years – since 1948 – the Old City of Jerusalem was under Jordanian occupation and Jews were forbidden from entering the area. When the Israelis were finally reunited with the Wall, there was an overwhelming feeling of euphoria and thousands of people swarmed toward the Wall.

During this war, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, launched a new campaign – the tefillin campaign. He asked Chabad followers worldwide to go out to the streets and offer Jewish men and boys the opportunity to don tefillin. This was based on the Talmudic statement that “one who puts on tefillin, will live long.” And even more, the Rebbe pointed out, the Talmud says, “When one puts tefillin on his head, he projects fear over our enemies wherever they are.”

When the Kotel was freed, Chabad set up a special stand, offering the opportunity to don tefillin, and hundreds of inspired visitors were happy to do so.

A short time later, Ariel Sharon, accompanied by other high-ranking IDF officials, and a delegation of foreign diplomats arrived at the Wall. A Chabad rabbi asked Sharon if he would like to put on tefillin. Sharon was happy to do so, and proudly stretched out his left arm.

When he began to recite the prayer, the entire entourage joined in for a resounding “Shema Yisrael.” The emotion at that moment was indescribable. Photos were snapped, and Sharon told reporters that this was the first time he had put on tefillin since his bar mitzvah. Before long, it was all over the news and many more were inspired by his act and followed suit – some for the first time in their lives.

When a Jew in Cleveland puts on tefillin, he adds to the security of Israel. This is a small contribution that we can offer to strengthen our brethren in the Holy Land.

Rabbi Zushe Greenberg is the spiritual leader of Solon Chabad.