On my news feed this week, I came across an interesting psak (ruling in Jewish law) by Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef. It said,
It isn’t permitted for a man who owns an iPhone to lead the services in shul. The congregation should appoint a God-fearing man to lead the services.”
I’m not going to write about how I constantly Whatsapp the rabbi of my community regarding halachic questions. I’m not going to write about the fact that my rosh yeshiva has a SmartPhone. I’m not even going to write about how 95% of the boys in my yeshiva have SmartPhones. Heck, I’m writing this blogpost on my iPhone. However, this psak did get me thinking about the connection between my iPhone and davening (praying), and I’ll try to explain why this connection is such a problem.
Having internet on your phone means you are constantly connected to your entire contact list. There are times when this is a positive thing, and many times when this is a negative thing. One of the most negative times, in my opinion, is during davening. All too often, you can look around during a weekday davening, and find that a nice percentage of the congregation is busy looking at their phones.
Let’s think about that for a second. Most of us spend the majority of our day, working, going to school, or occupying ourselves in some other way. Davening can sometimes be our only part of the entire day when we really feel connected to God. It’s our daily hour that we set aside to talk to Him, to connect to our souls, and to show our gratitude for all He has done for us. Unfortunately, in our day and age, we have all kinds of distractions, none bigger than the one in our pocket. It’s like an invisible wall between us and God, preventing us from really connecting to Him, even in the short time we allot for ourselves every day to do so.
I remember having a lot of trouble focusing on davening when I first got my iPhone. I felt like I needed to know every play that had happened in the Tigers game the previous night, or what I’d missed on Whatsapp since I’d gone to sleep. It’s so easy to convince ourselves that we need to check our email that very second, send an important Whatsapp message, or post a creative status we’ve just came up with. You tell yourself it’ll just take a few seconds, but it impacts your whole davening. It becomes, “Davening between checking my phone”. On my way home from those morning services the feeling was, “Wow, I just wasted 45 minutes on my phone. Sure, I quickly articulated the various prayers, but I blew an opportunity to really daven.” However, I was never strong enough to remind myself of that disappointment the following morning. I was a Monday morning quarterback, but ignored all I had learned on the previous Sunday. It was a cycle of wasted, worthless prayers.
After having enough of this, I made two changes, which I would like to recommend to everyone who is reading this blogpost. The first, was reminding myself every morning why I go to davening. It’s not just because it’s that time of day, it’s because I really want to spend part of my day talking to God. It’s not just “another davening”, it’s “Today’s Davening”. I’ll never get a second chance to improve “Today’s Davening”, so I’d better make the most of this opportunity.
The second recommendation is to physically put your phone away. Not in your pocket on or on the table. Either leave it at home, or put it somewhere out of your reach. Try this tomorrow morning, I guarantee your davening will have a different feel to it. I can’t believe shuls don’t already have cubbies for phones. In my opinion, they are a must-have in today’s world. I mean, once the Temple is rebuilt, can you imagine a Kohen Gadol (high priest) flipping through his emails between sacrifices? The change has to begin now.
There is no better time for improving yourself than the month of Elul. This is the month we have to fix our mistakes, and become better people for the following year. Let’s take advantage of the moment, starting with making a simple decision to put our phones away during davening. This is a simple, yet effective way we can improve ourselves. I agree with Rabbi Yosef that phones during davening are a problem, but not with the direction he took it. It can be hard to tell our Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) that we want to keep saying the words of davening when our phones are within hand’s reach. He’ll always have an excuse why you need to check your phone this second. Let’s make it easier on ourselves, and put our phones away during davening. It’s worth it.