Question: What if an evil villain captures tefillin, and will return them only for a hefty ransom – are we required to oblige him his price?
Answer: Only if his price is no more than slightly higher than their true value; otherwise, we must abandon them. The reason we may not squander more is not because they are not worth it, but because to give the villain what he wants is to encourage him, or others like him, to do it again in the future, which will lead to greater desecration and persecution of Jews! (Note: Even if the tefillin are not “kosher”, and the most we can do is give them a proper burial, we should still spend the money, as stated above.) Furthermore, we should be careful not to incite the captor during the ordeal, so that he will not desecrate the tefillin more in his anger.
Question: From whom may one purchase tefillin in order to be sure that they are made according to the strictest standards of halacha?
Answer: Basically, we are looking to purchase tefillin from a ‘mumcheh’ (an expert), who is well-reputed among those who adhere to halacha. This does not mean that the seller must, himself, know how to make the tefillin, but that he is reliable and knowledgeable enough to attest to the expertise and G-d-fearing qualities of the ones who made them. The most crucial piece of the package is the parchments. Some people like to be able to see and inspect the ‘parshiyos’ before they are sealed in the ‘batim’. If the tefillin are sold closed, it is that much more important that one knows and trusts the seller. If, in fact, one purchased tefillin from one who was not reputed as a ‘mumcheh’, then the tefillin must be opened and inspected by one who is. Finally, although one cannot possibly inspect the ‘kavanah’ (intent) of those who were involved in every step in the tefillin-making process, to verify that each was done ‘lishmah’ (for the sake of the Kedusha-holiness of tefillin), if one sees that the visible parts are done correctly, he may assume that the ‘kavanah’ was had correctly too. (Ed: More on the requirement of ‘lishmah’ in the upcoming lessons, iy”H.)