Quickly reciting many words, in a specific order, while being careful to pronounce each word properly, all the while with very little understanding of those words.
We do this every day.
Three times a day.
Our entire lives.
It isn’t supposed to be this way and, as we all know, it isn’t always a very fulfilling and enriching experience.
A fellow once came out of shul and remarked, “I just saw about thirty people davening but only two people actually talking to Hashem!”
This is the objective of Portraits of Prayer. To assist us with upgrading our relationship with Hashem. To transform our davening to Hashem into talking to Hashem.
I vividly remember the day, many years ago, when I had an epiphany concerning tefillah. I was in tenth grade and learning with my chavrusa in the beis medrash. I was playing around with the shtender of the fellow who davened in the seat I was learning in. He had in his shtender a small Metzudah siddur and I had never seen something like that before. Out of curiosity, I opened it and began flipping through the pages. What I saw completely floored me and forever changed my outlook and attitude concerning tefillah.
By the tefillah of אֶת צֶֽמַח דָּוִד עַבְדְּךָ in Shemoneh Esrei, he had underlined the words: כִּי לִישׁוּעָתְךָ קִוִּינוּ כָּל הַיּוֹם – For Your deliverance we hope all day. I couldn’t believe it. I just simply couldn’t believe it. A person underlines something that is important to him. Something that is to be remembered and valued. I had a difficult time processing what I was experiencing. If this tenth grader took the effort to underline something in his siddur, he must take his davening really seriously. He must think that davening to Hashem is important and something of real value.
For the first time in my life, I realized that there are people who daven to Hashem because they want to, not merely because they are obligated to. There are people who feel a close connection with Hashem and want to cultivate and nourish that relationship with Hashem.
My heart breaks for people who view tefillah as a bothersome burden that must be dispensed with in the most efficient and swift way possible. They can’t bear to remain in shul a single moment longer than absolutely necessary.
A casual acquaintance of a groom who feels obligated to attend his friend’s wedding will show up by the second dance, wish his acquaintance a hearty mazel tov and perhaps make a circuit or two and then make his way home.
A friend can’t do that. He comes to the chuppah, remains until the end of the first dance, eats the main course, wishes mazel tov and then heads home.
A close friend comes to the reception before the chuppah and happily remains until after bentching and sheva brachos, wishes mazel tov and then goes home.
For immediate family, however, even that just wouldn’t do. They enthusiastically come early for pictures and joyfully remain until after the mitzvah dance. They then reluctantly head home.
This is similar to what goes on in our shuls for davening.
Those who don’t really feel a close connection with Hashem, yet understand that they have an obligation to show up, arrive to shul halfway through davening and are gone before the other half of davening concludes. They fulfilled their obligation – no more, no less.
Others come as davening is starting. They manage to quickly put on their tallis and tefillin, say what they are required to say, and are gone before the chazzan has a chance to turn around at the conclusion of davening.
Yet others still, those who feel very close to Hashem, those who feel like family, they are in shul with their tallis and tefillin on before davening begins and only remove them, albeit reluctantly, after davening is over.
Imagine for a moment how the family of a groom would feel if a close family member would show up to the wedding only by the second dance, stay for twenty minutes and then leave. The family would be terribly hurt. It’s not so much that they would be angry at him, but they would be sad. After all, he is a family member and they want to have a close and intimate relationship with him.
Do we realize what we are doing when we come late to shul and then rush out? Our loving Father in Heaven, Who has tremendous love for us, wants more than anything else to have a close and intimate relationship with us. Yet, we run away!
As ludicrous as this sounds, it does make some sort of sense. After all, how much satisfaction can one get from reciting words that, unfortunately, have little meaning to him? How can someone cultivate any genuine connection and relationship with Hashem by rattling off phrases that have no depth for him?
It is no wonder, therefore, that some people feel like crawling out of their skin if the chazzan takes an extra breath and causes davening to end a moment later than scheduled.
So what is the solution? What can be done to rectify this unfortunate situation?
The prime objective of Portraits of Prayer is to assist with improving our understanding of the tefillos we recite each and every day. Yet, rather than just working on improving our Hebrew vocabulary by trying to memorize what the words mean, Potraits of Prayer offers a different–and perhaps more practical–way.
Portraits of Prayer can be read simply to enjoy the amazing and inspirational stories it contains. As a storybook, it will be a most enjoyable read. However, the prime goal and objective of this book is for you, the reader, to select a tefillah, learn some of the background of that tefillah, and then enjoy a wonderful story that helps explain a phrase in that tefillah, or helps inspire a more thoughtful reflection of it.
The hope is that the next time you are quickly making your way through that tefillah, perhaps even at breakneck speed, as you recite a phrase about which you recently read an inspiring story, you may find yourself slowing down for a moment as your mind and heart draw a connection between the inspiring story you read and the words you are reciting.
You have just – even if only for those few words – upgraded your davening to Hashem to talking to Hashem!
A few days later, do the same with a different tefillah, and you will find yourself once again slowing down as you recite those words, your mind associating the amazing story or interesting thought with the words you are reciting.
As you continue adding more of these tefillah-related stories to your mind’s repertoire, you will find your tefillah experience to be not only enriching, but an invigorating and exhilarating experience. You will cease looking at each approaching tefillah as just another bothersome chore to check off your to-do list. Rather, you will begin looking forward to the next tefillah as soon as you close your siddur for the current tefillah.
Remember, a relationship is only as strong as the weaker side wants it to be. Hashem wants to have the most amazing, intimate, deep, and enriching relationship with us, His children. It is solely up to us to decide how close and strong of a relationship we would like to create with our loving Father in Heaven.
Portraits of Prayer is available at www.israelbookshoppublications.com or at your local bookseller.