Rabbi Avraham Neuberger
It never gets old. There is a quickening of the pace, a small feeling of excitement, tinged, perhaps, with some annoyance, followed by the inevitable frenzy of inactivity. There’s the quick goodbye to the wife and kids, and off you go.
Your business requires you to go to some G-d forsaken place to meet with clients, to network, or to attend a conference, so off you are to the all-too-commonplace business trip.
But is any place truly G-d forsaken? Perhaps a more correct term would be, “a place which man forsakes G-d.” For if ever there was a minefield, this is it. Business travel is a nisayon that does not garner nearly the amount of attention it truly deserves. Because for someone out there alone, without the ordinary safeguards in place, the tests crop up on every possible level.
The anchors we are accustomed to — a schedule, acquaintances, a wife, a home — do not automatically transport themselves to the new set of circumstances. There is often no minyan in the morning, at least in the immediate vicinity of the hotel, no daf yomi, and ditto for Minchah and Maariv. You can easily choose to daven while puttering around in your hotel room, trying to have a modicum of kavanah — but is this davening?
You may not see another frum person during your trip, and it is possible that nobody — not even a non-Jew — will know you altogether. Chazal tell us, “If only we would be as embarrassed of Hashem as we are of people.” When you are on a business trip, is there anyone to be embarrassed of? The code of conduct that your acquaintances expect of you doesn’t hold up when nobody knows you. This solitude can easily foster a sense of recklessness, a mindset that is the very opposite of the caution generated by yiras shamayim.
What about the boredom? Need anything be said about the test that faces you when you go back to your hotel room, even after a particularly long day? When does a “long day” end? Say at seven p.m. Then what? What will you do until you go to sleep some four or six hours later? How do you keep busy? Okay, so you answer e-mails, call the wife, and perhaps if you are in same time zone, schmooze a little with the kids. Now what? Three hours left to go. Three hours is very long time. And there is only one entertainment option available: the ubiquitous TV. You do not allow a TV into your home, but here there really is nothing else to do. And there is no one around. And there are channels upon channels upon channels. Against this there is only one safeguard: self-control.
Let’s call a horse by its name. You are in a dangerous situation.
Having spelled out the problem, what is there to do?
In truth, there should be support groups in which frum men who travel can have open and honest conversations about the nisyonos of business travel and how they can preserve their kedushah on the road.
But perhaps I can suggest several strategies to ameliorate the problem, if not solve it completely. Remember, all Hashem asks is that we try.
As is often the case, preparation is key, with the goal being to minimize down time.
First of all, starting the day as early as possible will reduce the time awake at the end of the day, and the end of the day is the real trouble area. An early morning exercise session is a very productive way to get started.
There are websites that list minyanim in far-flung locales. Let’s say the nearest minyan is a half-hour or even a 45-minute drive from your hotel. Normally, you wouldn’t go to such extremes to daven with a minyan. But be honest: The effects of making the effort to join other frum Jews and daven with them will be such a chizuk for your Yiddishkeit that it certainly is worth every minute, and it will put your entire day on a different spiritual plane.
When you finish davening, you can “chap a schmooze” with other frum Jews, and you may hear of a kosher eatery in the area. Drop by. These places ground you. They reconfirm your roots. There is something to be said for bagels and lox. Find out when Minchah and Maariv is scheduled. Even if you are not always careful to daven Maariv with a minyan when you are home, when you are a business traveler, it is invaluable. It sandwiches the day at the start and at the end with thoughts of the Creator, and cements your feelings of being true trooper, an eved Hashem.
But what to do when you eventually return to your room? A friend of mine came up with a simple idea: as soon as he checks into his hotel, he unplugs the TV. (Hopefully this involves moving a heavy piece of furniture. This acts as a shemirah against plugging it back in!) Next, call home. Use the free time to schmooze with your wife and your parents even more than you would when you are home. Listen to a shiur on your phone. Say Krias Shema. Go to sleep, with the knowledge that Hashem appreciates your struggle when you are trying to be His man.
It is at times like this that Hashem proclaims (Yerushalmi Berachos 1:5), “If you give Me your heart and eyes, Ana yada d’at Li — I know that you are truly Mine.”
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger is the rav of Congregation Shaarei Tefilla of New Hempstead and the author of Positive Vision, a Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation project (ArtScroll\Mesorah)