A few months ago a friend of mine – someone who travels a lot for work – sent me this message from his blackberry as he waited to board a flight:
“Dawn is breaking. A young man a few rows down, nondescript except for a small, almost hidden, Kippah just wrapped Tefillin and began his morning prayers. He covers his head with his Tallit. Oblivious to the physical world he is immersed in a different place. He takes 3 steps back, sways and moves forward again as he silently recites the Amidah. Surprisingly few people stare. Maybe he really is in a different place. Really beautiful.“
What takes my breath away even more than the wording (which was elegant and eloquent) was how this anonymous davening stranger captured my friend’s attention and imagination, which in turn caught mine. Even more, that this stranger did it without meaning to and in fact to this day may not realize that he did.
Like me, this friend of mine is on his own Jewish journey. Our destinations may not lead us to the same place and our paths are distinctly different. But he and I both are excited by our mutual travels. Almost every week, our families get together and we have a chance to compare notes, share what we’ve learned, bounce ideas around.
It reminds me of two threads that keep crossing, only to swing way out in the other direction before turning back inward to cross again. We go out during the week, do our thing, meet back on Shabbat and reconnect, and then keep rolling through to the following week. In some ways his movement has kept me on track, and I think I’ve had the same effect for him.
His email was one such point of connection. It got us both thinking and – although we didn’t intend it – set us on our own paths.
This week, on my desk, sits an old and worn set of tefillin once owned by someone I knew and respected. And on his desk sits a set that is completely new, the shine barely off the thick straps that still creak when they are wound. We are both looking for a way to take our place next to that anonymous young man in the airport, to find our way to that “different place” he found so effortlessly.
On the mornings when time and confidence combine to allow me to try on this new habit, I look down at the winding on my arm and realize that the overlapping strands of leather are a perfect reminder of our experiences as Jews: sometimes parallel, sometimes overlapping, and always binding.
Connecting us to God, and to each other.