Category Archives: davening

Pop Up Blockers and Me

Note: This post is based on a causal email exchange I had right before Sukkos with a friend/sometimes blog reader..

Thought pop into my head way to often. Mostly during davening. I find that it’s a challenge for me to keep my kavannah from being hijacked. For sure this was a problem prior to Sukkos. I’ve tried hisbodedus before davening. I’ve told myself, “Focus on davening” between the time I’ve left home and arrived at shul, as well. It never really seems to work for me in the long run. Usually any attempt has been the proverbial band-aid.

Then, for some reason, I thought about the miracle of the ‘pop-up blocker’. These little programs are amazing. The allow us to jump from website to website for hours on end without having to deal with those annoying pop-up windows. Why couldn’t I use this technology for my davening? I tried it during the first days of Sukkos. As I got ready to daven Sukkos morning I imagined that just the simple action of open my siddur turned on my ‘pop-up blocker’ that would help filter out all of those thought that seem to enter my mind during daving. You know the ones that really set you off course, like, “I really should have had two cups of coffee in my sukkah” or “I wonder if everyone here bentched lulav and esrog before coming to shul?”

I was actually impressed. This simple mental trip seemed to help my kavannah. It isn’t full proof, but it’s a start. In truth, this idea has been around for a while. A classic example would be the use of tzitzis or wearing of a yarmulka (although tzitzis is totally rooted in halacha).

I decided to extend my use of ‘pop-up blockers’ in regard to anger (more on this in the upcoming post titled “Habits”, coming soon to blog near you). I had a situation over Sukkos that not only tested my patience but I allowed it to eat away at me to the point of getting really upset. Finally I turned on my ‘pop-up blocker’ to stop myself from reaching the point of anger over a situation that really wasn’t in my control. When the same situation came up again, my ‘pop-up blocker’ stared flashing in my head and I was reminded that getting upset wasn’t worth the trouble.

I guess it’s really an issue of control. Do I want to be in control of my thoughts, or will my thoughts be in control of me (this makes me think of the old song by the band X, titled “I must not think bad thoughts”). I’m reminded of a classic Kelm story of about Rav Eliyahu Lopian z’tl.

While waiting for a bus in Yerushalyim with one of his talmidim, Rav Lopian was learning. At some point he picked his head out of the sefer he had and looked up to see if the bus was coming. Right after he did this, he turned to his student and said something like, “Had I been in Kelm and did this, I would have gotten an hour mussar shmooze.” The idea being two fold:
a) Looking to see if the bus was coming doesn’t make the bus come any faster
b) It’s a bus. Is a bus so important that you are willing to give up even a second of your seder in learning. Who is in control? You or the bus?

For another great post on dealing with anger, I strongly suggest this by A Simple Jew.

‘Mapquest Yiddishkeit’

Don’t let the title throw you off, just stick this one out for a minute or two. I’ve been living in Chicago for nine months now, and I really have no clue about where things are geographically. I don’t really use a map anymore, I use Mapquest. I can tell you what exit I need to take to get to a museum, or how many miles I need to go until I turn left to get to someone’s house, but I can’t place too many locations on a map. I’ve become a product of what I’d like to call the ‘Mapquest generation’.

I contrast this with living in New York (1991-1997) where, I felt, I had a pretty good grasp of where thing were in each borough and Long Island (with the exception of a few neighborhoods in Brooklyn and all of Jersey). The main reason that I knew how to get places was because I used maps, not Mapquest. I knew streets as streets, and what was located nearby because I used a map.

With Mapquest one only knows how to get to their location, not what else is around the area.
I think there is a difference between knowing the directions of how to get to a hashkafic location and knowing where ones’ hashkafa is relation to other hashkafos.

I just hope I don’t raise a generation of ‘Mapquest Jews’. What I mean is Jews who know only how to get to their own derach and don’t see where they are in relation to other acceptable avenues and streets of Torah Judaism. Understanding where you are holding and respecting other is key how we function with a frum society.

The ‘Maquest model’ does have some redeeming value. For me it can serve a very useful function. When I am not on target with my Avodas Hashem, there is value in just getting basic directions to where I need to go, without the details of the surrounding area.

I know there are areas in which I slack. Davening b’tsibur is a challenge for me, at times. Applying the Mapquest approach would mean that I should focus only on my destination, in this case getting to a minyan. Where I am, in relation to others, in Avodas Hashem is only important in terms of chizuk.

It says in Peirkei Avos, “Ha Makir Es Makomo”, one should know ones’ place.