So I have this friend named David. We went to college together. He and I met during the fall of my freshman year, during the period of time when I was going to the Jewish Center every Friday night. He encouraged me to sing; along with a dozen other friends, we founded the Elizabethans together. In those years we welcomed many a Shabbat by lighting illicit candles and blessing whatever "bread" and "wine" were in my dorm room (often as not, Triscuits and a bottle of Sam Smith's oatmeal stout). This is the same David who gave me my first copy of The Jew in the Lotus (and my second one, after I lent the first one to somebody who decided to keep it). We've been singing together, and discussing theology together, pretty much since we met.
David came to visit on Monday, because it was my thirtieth birthday. I'd already had the shock of a lifetime the previous day, when my wonderful sweetie threw me a surprise "erev birthday" brunch which turned out to include my parents, here from Texas to surprise me! But by Monday evening they were gone again, and I expected a quiet birthday evening featuring friends, cheesecake, and sparkly beverages.
Those expectations were happily met. But before the other friends came by, and before we broke out the champagne flutes, David handed me a bright turquoise gift bag with two birthday cards in it. After I read the cards (one of which noted that a hypothetical baby born when we first became friends would be long past the age of b'nai mitzvah now -- an alarming fact if there ever was one), I withdrew the package inside the bag...unwrapped the tissue paper...and stared at the blue velvet tefillin pouch inside. "You didn't," I said. He laughed at me. "I don't believe you. You didn't!" I said again, though in retrospect I can't imagine why, since obviously he had done.
As you may remember, I've been contemplating buying myself tefillin for a while now, and I very nearly bought myself some that day. But I can't help thinking that, delightful as it would have been to lay my own claim to the tradition, there's something especially auspicious about having them given to me. Maybe I've read too many fairy tales, but it seems like there might be extra oomph in a set of tefillin that come as a gift. Certainly there will be extra joy in putting them on, which I intend to do for the first time tomorrow morning. I'm working from home tomorrow, so could theoretically sleep in...but I think I may set the alarm, instead. I have a date with my new tefillin, and I don't want to be late.