The internal conversation goes something like this: I don’t talk in Shul. My phone, text and email are set for relatively non-disturbing vibrating alerts. I get to minyan more on less on time. And I don’t even look at my phone during Shema or Shemoneh Esrai. So what’s the big deal if I glance at my phone when I get an alert during the davening down times?
My good friend, Rabbi Moshe Schwerd, provided a fairly compelling answer in a shiur about Mourning the Beis HaMikdash, which you can download here. He explained that Hashem took away our primary portal for connecting to Him when He destroyed the two Temples because of our sins. However, He did leave us with one primary prayer portal, the Shul. And now we’re blocking up that portal, with a disrespectful approach to prayer and to our Shuls.
Rabbi Schwerd illustrated this by explaining that call waiting is the only way we can insult two people in 5 seconds. First we tell the person with whom we’re talking to hold on because we want to see if the person on the incoming call is more important. And when we find out that he/she isn’t, we tell them we’ll call back because the first person is more important. Of course we don’t use those words, but that’s the message we’re sending and the message we send everytime we interrupt any conversation to check our phone.
The Shul is Hashem’s house. Even when we’re not davening we’re there for an encounter with the Master of the Universe. Do we really want to put Hashem on hold when we come to meet Him? Would we check our phone during a meeting with the President or our boss when asking for a raise? If we want to develop a relationship, shouldn’t we have the courtesy to pay attention?
So the answer to the opening question, is yes, it’s a big deal to glance at our phone. Hashem wants our attention in Shul. He knows it’s hard to have kavana during Peskukei D’Zimra, Shema and Shemoneh Esrai, but He also knows that we can put the phone away for the 40, 15 and 12 minutes at Shacharis, Mincha and Maariv respectively. Listen to Rabbi Schwerd’s shiur and think about it.