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Thought for the Day: Yes, You Should Fix A Place to Daven; No, You Don't Own the Spot Where You Learn

My first trip to Eretz Yisrael was sponsored by Motorola.  We had a meeting with Motorola Israel, my manager figured a nice Jewish boy like me would love a trip to Israel, so he assigned me as our group's representative.  The meeting was ho-hum, but I learned a lot.  First I learned that my Hebrew was way more woefully deficient than I had ever imagined.  Second, I learned that there were two minchas available in the office, one Ashkenaz and one S'fardi.  Third, I learned that the S'fardi workers in jeans and t-shirts davened with much more hislavus (enthusiasm/fire) than the Ashkenazim dressed in business casual.  (I happened on the S'fard minyan when I was delayed by a meeting and missed the Ashkenaz minyan.  I never went back.)

Shabbos was beautiful for many reasons, most too far off topic (yes, of course I have a topic and an agenda going on here) to expound on now.  Shabbos morning I went to where I thought the vasikin minyan davened... but I was wrong.  So I davened k'vasikin b'y'chidus and stayed to learn and wait for kriyas haTorah and mussaf with the congregation (it was too early to go back to my hosts' apartment anyway as I didn't want to take a chance on waking them).  At one point I picked up a sidder I had not seen before and randomly opened to "keil adon" where I saw an incredible explanation of the line "He saw the shining of the sun and fixed the form of the moon." -- HaShem saw that people would worship the sun, so He arranged that the orbit of the moon would eclipse the sun from time to time.  (I bought that siddur as soon as I got home and used it till it wore out and then bought a replacement; which is in my shtender till today.)

There was one unpleasant moment that Shabbos morning, though.  As the regular mispallalim started filtering in, one came over to me.  I looked up smiling, expecting a "good Shabbos" or "do you have a place for lunch" or "where are you visiting from" or... but what I got instead, was "Yes, you can sit there."  I hadn't, of course, asked anyone, as I was there long before anyone else.  "The person who usually sits there is on vacation."  The truth is, there are big things in having a makom kavu'ah (fixed location) for davening.  Still, I think there are better ways to approach a guest.

I mention this because there seems to be a disease affecting our midos that is out of control; namely, "That's my spot."  And then one is expected to be embarrassed and apologetic at having trespassed (albeit totally unwittingly).  I've seen this for things as mundane as parking spaces, for goodness sakes!  (I know you got here before me, but I always park there.)  I've also had people ask me to move because I am learning in "their place".  I've looked high and low... I've never seen a halacha to fix a geographic location for anything but t'fila.  And then, just a couple of nights ago, while learning something completely different -- I found what I had been seeking: an explicit Mishna Brura that the only halachically important geographic location for you, the only place where you have a right at all to claim "your" place -- is for t'fila.

The Shulchan Aruch (387:2) says that all must abandon even talmud Torah -- and obviously anything else -- in order to hear the reading of the M'gilas Esther.  The Mishna Brura (sk 7) explains that means that even if one has involved in a chabura/learning group of 100 people, everyone needs to stop and go to the main shul for hear the megila with everyone else in fulfillment of ברב עם הדרת מלך, "in multitudes there is glorification of the King" (Proverbs 14:28).  Then, in that same Mishna Brura, he adds: If you have a particular place where you daven the whole year, than stay there and hear the reading at your shul.

Having a particular place to daven is important and one does need to find a tactful way to let someone know if they are in your place to daven.  Anything else, though, just isn't worth the breach in derech eretz -- move one table over and learn there, move a seat or two over at kiddush, park a spot or two to the side.

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