Each morning during T'fillah (Prayer) we've had one or two of the clergy stop by to pray a little with the kids before they begin their work day. It's been absolutely lovely to see how they enjoy this service tailored to younger Jews. And it's been great for the kids to see adults who have made daily prayer a regular part of their Jewish lives.
Today, as a follow-up to a little lesson about the V'ahavta prayer ("Love the Eternal One with all your heart..."), Rabbi Padorr offered to wear her Tefillin during the service, and give the kids a little talk about them after services. I had never seen naked tefillin up close before and found myself sort of fascinated. I asked the rabbi if she wouldn't mind meeting with me later (while the kids were involved in a sports activity where my presence was not needed), and showing me her tefillin up close.
She was happy to.
In her office, she showed me a book with photos about how tefillin are made (it's super-involved and actually maybe even a little more fascinating than praying with them). She pointed out the special characteristics of each box -- one for the arm and the other for the head -- and showed me the blessings for when you put them on. (Incidentally, or not so incidentally perhaps, one of the blessings is the same as the words said under the marriage chuppah: "I betroth myself...") Then she pulled hers out and asked me if I had ever laid tefillin. I shook my head. She offered to teach me how with hers.
So that was how, five minutes later, my arm ended up looking like this:
I had them on for only a couple of minutes or so, enough to really feel the leather straps wound snugly against my skin. It felt different, but not weird. Sort of reassuring to have the prayer come to life in this very visceral way. I was fascinated by what I felt on my arm and in my mind and heart.
She helped me unwind them, put them away. The straps red light red marks where they'd been wound against my skin. Rabbi Padorr said, "that's there to remind you through the day of your commitment to the mitzvot (commandments), and to help you stay focused after prayer." Then, thinking of the influence of another rabbi, I found myself asking, "well, what if I wanted to make a set for myself out of synthetic -- you know, non-animal -- materials?" Rabbi Padorr offered to ask a teacher and colleague of hers and let me know how he responded.
When I got home from camp, the response was waiting for me. Rabbi Padorr was ordained as a Conservative rabbi and so I was not surprised to learn from her colleague that a synthetic set of tefillin would not be considered Kosher. Still, I think I want to think about it for awhile.
I love to make my own Judaica. So perhaps there's a way I could make something like this -- from Lorica or another synthetic leather -- so it might not be "Kosher" by some standards but maybe it would be sufficient for whatever it is I want to learn -- mentally or emotionally -- from the experience. What is "Kosher" in light of the changes in our environment anymore? And what is it FOR? How important is it for my tefillin to be made from animal products, or to be made by someone and flown in from halfway around the world? How bad would it be if I made them myself, for my own use? Some things to ponder here.
I spent the next two hours glancing occasionally at my arm to see the marks from the straps, until they had faded completely.
I was given a lot to think about today and for that I am truly grateful.