If you were to walk past a store every morning at ten and notice that one of the clerks was always doing jumping jacks, you would probably soon come to expect that person to be doing the jumping jacks at ten every morning — a pattern was established. I often look for patterns in life and try to figure out if there are patterns where ones would not be expected. I once, during the course of a semester of French, noted the type of earrings that the professor was wearing every day because there was an incident when she wore the same earrings twice in a row and I suspected perhaps she had some sort of plan to how she wore the earrings. It turned out that she either had no plan, or I just never found the pattern based on the notes I took.
Having written all this, it might seem obvious that I notice things that others seem not to. Here is an example of that — every morning I pray in a synagogue that is a few blocks away from my home. There are two gentlemen who pray in the row in front of me. Let us call them Beryl and Shmeryl. Part of the “standard equipment” that many Jewish men take with them to morning prayers is a bag in which they keep their prayer shawl, or tallis, as well as their tefillin — common called phylacteries, you can just think of them as a nifty set of leather boxes we tie to ourselves as a reminder of our connection to an infinite creator.
The way that the seats are configured in the synagogue, there are (as mentioned in a previous article) shtenders built into the seats so that a person can sit down with the prayer book and not have to keep it in his or her lap. The shtender can also be configured horizontally to make a sort of table top. Most people in my synagogue place their tallis bag onto the made table top of the seat next to them. (My feelings on occupying two seats just because one does not want to use the built in storage space of their shtender shall one day be explained… rest assured.)
The two gentlemen put their bags on neighboring table tops. Beryl almost always comes a bit earlier than Shmeryl and for the last two years, has had a habit of placing his tallis bag on the table top in such a manner in which it overlapped into the “turf” of Shmeryl’s table top by about an inch or so. I noticed that there was about two inches of space to the right of the bag which was free and clear table top space. Every morning, Shmeryl would come into the synagogue and when opening the shtender to get out his prayer book and then set it up as a table top, lift the overlapping tallis bag and prop it up so that it would be sufficiently out of the way to allow him to have access to his own shtender.
One morning, I decided that I had to say something. “Beryl,” I said, with Shmeryl well out of earshot. “Did you know that every single morning during the week, more or less for the last two years, you have put your tallis bag on the shtender in such a way that it overlaps onto Shmeryl’s shtender and therefore necessitates that he moves it so that he has access to his things?” He said that he had not known that. Shmeryl happened to come by to get something, and Beryl asked him if what I said was true. “It is true,” he said, “But don’t worry about it — it doesn’t bother me.”
“It doesn’t bother me either,” I said, “however I was just curious to know if you realized that you were doing that.”
That was the last morning that the tallis bag was placed in such a way. Since that morning, there has been a two inch shift in the way that the bag has been put down on the table top.
You never know what effect a few words can have on a person.