[written 10/15/06; another placeholder/catch-up entry]
I laid tefillin for the very first time today. M. and I got to services sometime in Birkhot HaShachar [the morning blessings--pretty early on but not the very first thing], and he took out his tefillin, and I took out "mine" (my brother's: he lives in Singapore, and the last time we were home in Louisville, where his tefillin have been languishing unused, I asked if I could take them to DC and borrow them for now--he said sure). I watched what he did, followed his lead on the shel yad [the one for the hand], listened for his whispered instructions when I wasn't sure; I discovered that my brother's tefillin shel rosh [the one that goes on your head] was way way way too big in circumference, and I didn't know how to make it tighter on the spot (didn't seem like a slip knot--needs un-and re-tying?), so I just settled for trying to tuck the back of it under my hair and keep the whole thing from slipping down onto the top of my glasses. I had just finished up the shel yad, got my nice letter-shin shape on the back of the hand, was figuring out how to tuck the last end bit under the wrapped sections on the palm side and feeling pretty pleased, looking forward to saying a shecheyanu for this new experience....
When A Man In A Position of Clerical Authority came up to burst my bubble. "You've got it on wrong. It's a slip knot--you need to go against the slip knot" (re: the shel yad, which I'd done as M. did it.) "And this is too loose" (re: the shel rosh; "I know," I said, "It's not mine and I haven't done this before, which you can probably tell.") So I took it off, reversed it (and so did M., even thought I think he'd probably been doing his wrapping however he's done it for the past X years, even if he hadn't done it recently?), and rewrapped down to the hand, only to be told, "You don't have it wrapped 7 times" (I didn't realize that doing one above the elbow didn't count) and "It's going to slip, because you didn't wrap it straight, and it's not tight" (actually, it didn't slip, and it was tight enough to be uncomfortable-ish and make me feel like my left arm was quasi-immobilized all through services: I figured if it wasn't turning red or purlple, though, I was probably okay). He took the straps and did the wrapping of the hand for me--"see, you want it to be loose over the finger"--doing a serviceable but much less aesthetically pleasing job leaving me a rather middle-heavy raggedy letter-shin shape on the back of the hand. I finished it up, and then went over to ask him in a whisper whether there was anything I could do to tighten the shel rosh: could he help me? "I can't deal with that right now," was the reply.
I was glad to be laying tefillin, but it wasn't much of a fun experience. It's a good thing I have a thick skin (only figuratively: my literal skin is quite thin & subject to bruising, probably more so than my ego etc.), but this was not a first-tefillin-laying that's likely to encourage anyone, especially women (why are you doing this? you've never even handled these before: what makes you think you have any clue?), lay tefillin. I don't recall whether any other women there besides the ones who are ordained clergy of one sort or another were wearing tefillin there this morning: I think not.
Since the time that I wrote the above, I have layed tefillin 2 more times. Each time has gotten better. I'll keep going!
And for anyone who missed Tefillin Barbie, you really do need to check her out. (There's still time to make a bid in her eBay auction!)