By Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields
Executive Director, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism
My daughter, the future Dr. Fields, once told me that one reason she enjoys watching “Grey’s Anatomy” is because of the show’s slogan, “It’s a beautiful day to save lives.” On the first sunny Shabbat this spring, on the way to Services, my son remarked, “It’s a beautiful day to walk on the beach after Services,” to which I responded, “It’s a beautiful day to converse with God!” My other son then said, “Every day is a good day to converse with God.” At that moment, I knew that my job as a mother and a rabbi had been successfully accomplished!
Yes! Every day, no matter the weather, is an opportunity, and a beautiful day, to converse with God, whether you are alone or with a minyan, the quorum needed to recite certain prayers of special sanctity, devarim she’be’k’dushah. One of my favorite mitzvot, which can be performed alone, is the mitzvah of tefillin, and I believe that is one reason why I love the mitzvah of tefillin so much, because the mitzvah can be performed, anywhere, without the need for nine other people. For me, wrapping tefillin is a form of self-care, and a way in which I converse with God. When I wrap tefillin, I reaffirm my belief in God; and I recharge myself and my commitment to be in relationship with God, Torah, and Israel. No matter where I find myself, on any given day that is not Shabbat or a holiday, I do not need anyone else with me to wrap my tefillin, begin my conversation with God, and perform my service of self-care by binding the straps of leather of the tefillin. Sometimes in life, one might need a boost of confidence and reassurance, that one is not alone, but God is always present with us. Wrapping tefillin is that affirmation that God is literally bound to me, no matter if another human being is near or not; God is always there. Although tefillin is not wrapped on Shabbat, when I wrap the tefillin seven times around my arm, I remember that, every day of the week, God manifests God’s self in my life, and I am grateful for the many blessings God brings into the world each and every day.
It was such an honor to collaborate this year with the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC) in educating the women of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, as well as the men of FJMC, about the mitzvah of tefillin, especially about women and tefillin. The World Wide Wrap is an initiative begun by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC) to encourage everyone to put on Tefillin for at least one day – usually that day being Super Bowl Sunday. FJMC, at their World Wide Wraps, have always encouraged men and women to put on Tefillin but, this year, WLCJ and FJMC collaborated to create educational materials to truly encourage women to don Tefillin and embrace the mitzvah of Tefillin. Under my leadership as WLCJ’s Executive Director, I created Tefillin 101, a Five-Week Crash Course on Tefillin. Tefillin is my passion and obsession, and it is a mitzvah that all should embrace, to bring each person into their own sacred, personal relationship with God, Torah, and Israel. Since the 2019 World Wide Wrap, I have led workshops on the mitzvah of tefillin, such as a program I facilitated at a Mid-Atlantic Region meeting, entitled, “Chillin’ with Tefillin: What would our Grandmothers think?”
Let us envision the mitzvah of tefillin as a tool to use during our period of self-care, which takes place during our conversation with God. May we have our own personal set of tefillin, so that tefillin will no longer be seen as a distant mitzvah that men have performed for centuries, but, rather, a mitzvah that we as women perform for ourselves, to have a time of personal reflection to bond (literally) with God, and to reflect on our own personal relationship with God, Torah, and Israel: To speak to God and say, “Shalom, God! I am here. Thank you for all you do for me and my many blessings. Can we talk?”
For more information on the World Wide Wrap, and to read Rabbi Wolintz-Fields’ full Tefillin 101 course, visit https://www.wlcj.org/news/tefillin-101/.