I recently opened a set of tefillin to check the parshios. When I took out the first parsha of the shel rosh, I found several holes in the klaf. My first thought was, “Did I damage them while taking them out of the battim?” While it is possible to damage parshios while taking them out of the battim, it seemed to me remote that I would’nt have noticed that I was damaging them. I studied the holes for a long time. I questioned myself, “Five Holes, how could you make five holes?” I took some scraps of klaf and made some test holes so I could see how much force it would take to make five holes. My conclusion was that it would take much more force than I could possibly exerted without being aware of doing it. Could they have been like that all along? But then why didn’t the last sofer who worked on them notice such an obvious problem? I turned the problem over in my head again and again. The next morning my battim machir (battim repair specialist) called me on the phone. “Melech, the battim are posel! They have a hole in the compartment for the fist parsha.” I was trying to comprehend. After going over this new aspect to the story I was starting to get it. Apparently what happened was that the sofer who last checked these tefillin was drilling out the holes that are used to sew the battim together. This is done to clean out any leftover bits of giddim (thread made from the sinews of a cow’s ankle) and paint so that the needle will easily pass through the holes. Unfortunately the drill went off course, pierced the bayis, and went through the parsha five times! When my battim macher was cleaning out the holes, his drill bit followed the course of least resistance: through the path of the original hole that the last sofer made.
Both the parshios and the battim are now possel. For the past four years the customer has been wearing posel tefillin and has not properly fulfilled the mitzvah. He informed me that since he is S’faradi, he only makes one bracha on tefillin so he was not making a bracha l’vatala (a blessing in vain).
Several things that can be learned from this incident but perhaps the most important lesson is that even with the best intentions mistakes will happen. If a sofer tells you he has never messed up, find yourself a new sofer who is more honest with himself and with you. The thing is, when something happens, we have to be responsible enough to not just assume everything is OK. We have to find out how far the problem goes. In this case the sofer had to know he made a hole, because the hole was filled in and painted over. It didn’t get filled in and painted over by itself. I guess he just told himself, “It probably didn’t go through the parshios, and it probably doesn’t possel the battim”. I think you would agree, ‘probably’ doesn’t cut it when it comes to your tefillin, does it?