If a Jew Prays in the Airport…

…and nobody makes a fuss, God still hears the prayer.

You may remember my friend who was so inspired by seeing another person davening at the airport, that he (and I) got our own set of tefillin. If not, you can read the original blog post here. He’s been busy – both in his “regular” work life, traveling and doing what he does; and spiritually, slowly taking on the mitzvah of wrapping tefillin and taking a moment to connect with The Infinite each morning. But so far it’s been a private affair. Each morning in his hotel room or home, he’s been able to set aside the requisite minutes and then pack up his things and move on with his day. Until this week. I got this on Monday:

“My first time laying Tefilin in a public place, at the airport. I think I violated Halacha, too early, but it was either now or later in the day in CA. I am confident HaShem understands. I found it tough to concentrate even though it was very quiet this early. Hopefully comes with practice.”

…and then on Thursday morning, this follow-up:

In Sacramento, found a relatively quiet spot but still  surrounded by people, first time “in public”,was very self conscience, sort of weird. Actually alerted the gate agent that these were not bombs I was strapping to my arm and head. Did I scare people or cause personal reflection in others, move them to greater understanding or a desire to learn, cause them to scoff at ancient rituals, or be in awe of them, who knows. Is it unfeeling to think “who cares” this is between me and my G-D?

In talking with him about it, I made the following observation:

I think – once you get past the initial self consciousness that comes with any new habit – it is perfectly reasonable to focus on your experience. It’s not a show after all. You aren’t responsible for others’ perception. It seems very much like your habits of exercise and vegetarian lifestyle. You don’t do it for show, you don’t draw focus to it. You do it for you. You are willing to talk about it with people who approach you, but otherwise, it’s a non-event. Your davening is (or will become) part of you, your routine. If others derive inspiration that is great, but it’s a by-product.

The conversation made me reflect on my own experience with tefillin so far. I’ve been traveling for the last 3 weeks – something that I haven’t done in a few years – and I discovered it to be easier to make time for ritual when I don’t have carpools, homework, or plunging toilets to distract me. Which was an interesting counterpoint to a post  by The Velveteen Rabbi, where (as a new mother) she is coming to terms with the challenge of juggling the irresistible force of her baby’s needs with the immovable object of the time-bound mitzvot.

It comforted me to realize that there might be a natural ebb and flow in all this, so I don’t have to worry about being “there”. I should just stay focused on being “here” and moving toward “there”.