The Tefillin Project

A while back, I posted about some of the aftermath of Secular Jew, Jr.’s hospitalizations and illnesses. One of them was that, lacking a “thing” in the morning, I was coming into the office early and doing something that, to the untrained eye, looks a lot like morning davening. I thought I would take a moment to update on that.

I’m not doing that so much these days. There are several reasons that I could point to. With SJJ home now for over a month, and with a regular schedule largely restored, there isn’t the absence of his presence and the effects of the absence–the loss of pleasures, the loss of obligations, etc.–that led me to need to fill the time. And my energy stores are back to their usual level of depletion, which is a contributing factor, too.

But over the course of the last month, and with SJJ home again, I’ve simply not felt the need to fill that time for myself. I still study at least one text every day–sometimes the daily Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (though I’m a day behind–I forgot yesterday’s reading), and usually some small sugya of Talmud. Sometimes I pop down to the Meditation Room in the building to do it; my printed copy of the Kitzur is quite small, so often I’ll just bring that along and read Hebrew in the quiet for a bit. Sometimes I study the siddur there, sometimes not.

When I’m able to leave very early (usually about once a week), I usually go to the Meditation Room and put on tallis and tefillin. But, again, what I do when I’m there is up for grabs; even when I use a siddur, I’m not doing it for prayer purposes, but to read something I’ve not read before or not read for a while. Often, I simply enjoy the parallelism of the poetry. Sometimes, I make a point of challenging myself to read something I know I can’t agree with at all, which actually makes the experience more educational; so if I read Yigdal, I kind of ponder the seeming rationality of the principles there, while also reflecting on how much “woo” (as we put it in the Humanist world) is inherent in the Yigdal’s (and the Rambam’s) efforts to salvage traditional “God-talk” from the results of philosophical speculation. Even when it’s something more apparently “mundane” like the Kitzur, I find something to engage with and challenge (leasing rights of way through an already-leased residence for the purposes of constructing an eruv in a courtyard is interesting if you’re also a secular-trained lawyer).

There’s no bowing, though; except for putting on tallis and tefillin, there’s no standing (it’s hard to do that sitting down anyway, if you’ve ever given it a shot–particularly to put on a tallis).

Do I miss not being able to do that every day? I miss the alone time, for which I really have a substantial need, but there’s this magical thing called a lunch break that I can use for that purpose. But I don’t particularly miss the ritual, and it never even occurs to me to do any of this at home, as it just seems unnecessary.

Do I feel guilty about not being able to do it every day? No. I make the decision to do or not do as the feeling and interest arise; I don’t regret the decision either way. For example, this morning I arrived with enough time to do the whole rigmarole. Did I?

No. I dropped my bag at my office, grabbed a book, and went to the Meditation Room. I sat for a few minutes, kind of zoned out (I’ve been up since 4:30), and went back to the office. I didn’t even crack the book. And I was good with that. That wouldn’t have been enhanced by tallis and tefillin; I actually probably would have been annoyed with them this morning.

I imagine I’ll continue like this for some time as life continues to get more stable at home (and it has, happily, done this quite rapidly). At present, it’s how I’m doing self-care of the soul.

For now, that’s what works for me.

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