Written by Leibel Estrin
You really have to wonder. In Igeres HaKodesh Letter 24, the Alter Rebbe states:
My beloved ones, my brethren: I beg of you… Let no one make himself wicked before G‑d during that one hour (i.e., the hour of prayer) that He has chosen of all day… to be revealed and to come into the “miniature sanctuary,” i.e., synagogue… [Now] he who speaks of his needs, demonstrates that he has no desire to contemplate and to behold the manifestation of [G‑d’s] majestic glory.
The Hebrew phrase for “he who speaks of his needs” is not ha’omer b’tzrachav or ha mdaber b’tzrachav; or even m’vakesh tzrachav but v’hamispar b’tzrachav. Anyone who ever dialed a non-working phone number in Israel has heard the expression, “hamispar hazeh…”
Furthermore, the words ha mispar b’tzrachav mareh b’atzmo can be loosely translated as, “the number identified with his activities that he stares at intently!” osios peshutos, plain and simple terms, the Alter Rebbe write:
Whoever will stand before Him and not care to see Him, busying himself at that time with his own needs, — how lowly, foolish and senseless is he… Moreover, it is a dishonor to the king, when he demonstrates that to have pleasure from gazing upon His glory and beauty is of no more esteem in his eyes than busying himself with his own needs! Moreover, it is a capital offense towards the king, to exhibit how he disgraces and dishonors the king in the eyes of the public.
The Shulchan Aruch is clear. A person shouldn’t learn Torah while davening, how much more does it apply to reviewing emails, texting friends or associates, or even saying Tehillim or Chitas by phone.
Even if the person doesn’t look at his phone, but keeps it on, the nevertheless the pings, rings and other sounds can disturb others who are davening. And switching to mute doesn’t help, because the person is still half-waiting for a message, and not fully focusing on Hashem.
The solution is simple. To avoid becoming “a chariot to the supernal fool,” turn off the phone. You will no doubt have a better davening experience. (And so will we!) Even more importantly, if you pay attention to G-d’s words, He will most certainly pay attention to yours, and, fulfill your needs both materially and spiritually.