Driving: Just last week I was driving in a residential neighborhood, and one of those crazy people was tailgating, only inches behind me. I was going the speed limit, but that wasn’t fast enough, so he was honking like mad. Then he passed me and I almost fainted: this maniac driver was wearing a yarmulke! Can you imagine? What’s wrong with us? Are we succumbing totally to the insanity around us?
Speed davening: I admit I am a slow davener – really slow. What can I say? I am trying to have a real conversation with Hashem. I go a little crazy with supersonic minyans. Sometimes I am on the third berachah of Shemoneh Esrei when the baal tefillah starts his repetition. OK, I’m slow, but the real question is: are we all really thinking about what we are saying when we speak to Hashem? I think our respect for each other should extend to creating a situation in which we can all daven with a sense of serenity. We are all in this together and we will only get out of it if we beg Hashem intensely to rescue us.
Disturbances during davening: I was davening in a shul where there are continuous minyans. To me, this is a beautiful service to Am Yisrael. I love these places. You see how Jews love to speak to Hashem; the atmosphere is electric. Someone brought his two-year-old son. This is very young to be in shul. There were maybe a hundred people davening, and this kid was talking loudly to himself during the total silence of Shemoneh Esrei. Everyone in the shul could hear this child. I said to the father after the minyan, “You should have taken him outside.” He got very angry with me. Why?
“One who takes…immature children to shul is…responsible for problems they cause. One cannot do teshuvah for sending disruptive children…. Disturbed kavanah cannot be fixed. Also, one will not know from whom to ask forgiveness” (from the sefer Wake Up! – Halachos of Davening).
Davening with derech eretz: I am particularly sensitive to interruptions during davening, so I want to be careful about confusing my own ideas and halacha, but clearly we should be sensitive to other people, especially when it comes to matters of kedushah. We should be careful about not sitting in another person’s place in shul. I believe it is proper that one who is new to a shul should inquire first before taking a seat whether that seat is available. People appreciate this very much.
Also, some people daven very loudly. I always wonder whether they think Hashem is hard of hearing. This is a joke, but it’s not a joke. Of course, during Shemoneh Esrei we are not supposed to be heard by others, but some people have a way of whispering very audibly. Regarding people who converse during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei, the Shulchan Aruch says, “His iniquity is more than can be borne and he should be rebuked.”
Even during Pesukai d’Zimra, when the rules are less stringent, it is brought down that “one should not raise his voice too much” (Elyahu Rabbah 51:10). But some people think it is a mitzvah to yell. I would think it a mitzvah to be aware of your neighbor, who may be unable to daven because you are yelling.
Recently I was at a minyan in which two people were texting during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei and the gabbai was conversing with a friend. I don’t understand why people don’t take life seriously. This is playing with fire. In fact, the Mishnah Berurah (124:7) famously quotes the Elyahu Rabbah, who writes in the name of the Kol Bo, “Woe to those people who speak during davening, for we have seen several shuls destroyed as a result of this sin.” It demonstrates disrespect not only for the entire institution of prayer, but also for those who take daveningseriously and know our lives depend upon it.
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In the merit of caring for each other and “not doing to others what is hateful to us” (Shabbos 31a), may Hashem answer all our tefillos and send us very, very soon the Holy Temple and Mashiach ben David to bring us back to our beautiful Holy Land, where we will all live together in peace and serenity.