Rashi: “As soon as they arise from their sleep, they strengthen themselves like a lioness and like a lion, to grab Mitzvos… to don Tefillin.”
When R’ Zalmen was exiled to Siberia, he knew that his days would be fraught with hardships. Yet his main concern was how he would be able to get away with a minimum of work on Shabbos. Although most of the jobs in the Siberian forest entailed chopping trees, R’ Zalmen begged the supervisor in charge for a lighter kind of work, due to his weakened physical state. To balance it out, he promised to work longer hours. With Hashem’s help, R’ Zalmen landed the job of mailman, whose duties were to deliver letters every day by foot, from their camp to the nearby camp. Thanks to the nature of his work, he was able to keep many a Shabbos in its entirety, for which he was eternally grateful. One Shabbos, R’ Zalmen was suddenly summoned urgently, and he was given an important letter to deliver at once. Having no choice, he set out with the envelope in hand, carrying it with a slight shinui (in an irregular way), to minimize the chilul Shabbos.
Passing the dense forest, sweet sounds of singing suddenly drifted towards him, and he perked his ears in wonder. ‘Who could it be?’ Resisting the urge to follow the sound for fear of getting sidetracked from his mission, R’ Zalmen reluctantly disregarded the singing and continued on his way. He did, however, mark the location in his mind, intending to check it out upon his return.
Mission accomplished, R’ Zalmen hurried back to that spot in the forest, and encountered a wonderful sight! A Jew was sitting on the ground, a tablecloth spread out before him, and in a beautiful, emotion-packed voice filled with longing, he was singing the Shabbos songs.
R’ Zalmen hurried towards him, and introduced himself as another Yid, but received no recognition. Then he showed the Jew his pair of Tefillin, which he carried with him at all times to avoid having them discovered. The Jew’s eyes widened in wonder and awe. Tefillin! It had been twenty-five years since he’d last seen a pair of Tefillin! With a passionate plea, he asked R’ Zalmen to tell him where his barrack was located, so that he could come the next day to perform the Mitzvah he so longed for.
When R’ Zalmen opened his eyes the next morning, the Jew was there already, standing near his bed. ‘Please allow me under your quilt, so that I could put on Tefillin!’ The Jew climbed into R’ Zalmen’s bunk, covering himself to conceal his actions. He turned the Tefillin around his arms, and with tears in his eyes recited the Berachah. R’ Zalmen responded with an equally intense Amen, and for a short moment, two lone Jews in Siberia floated on a spiritual high.
Every morning for the next month, the Jew would be there, foregoing his sleep and sometimes his bread to be able to perform this Mitzvah. After a month he was relocated to a distant camp, and was no longer able to come to R’ Zalmen and his Tefillin. Years later, when R’ Zalmen lived in Eretz Yisroel, he was once walking through the streets, when a strikingly familiar niggun reached his ears. He followed the sound to a nearby Shul, and was delighted to see, in one of the corners, that Jew who had shared his Tefillin in Siberia! With feelings of gratitude and nostalgia, the two of them reveled in the memories of their one spiritual oasis in the Siberian desert!