A Fresh Look at Davening

In the beginning, davening was all about singing and dancing and connecting to G-d. They were amazing times…..We would go to the old ivy covered Hillel House at G.W.U. (George Washington University in D.C) on Friday night, first daven the “service” and then make a communal Shabbat dinner (or maybe it was the other way around back then). There must have been 15 or 20 of us, blue jeans and long hair, loving the world, and in love with being Jewish, eyes shining and hearts wide open, and we danced and sang underneath the huge banner across one wall of the room that read, “Transcend!” We felt so in touch with G-d and the universe, so connected and united with the Jewish people all over the world, and all through history, that the words of the Shma burned deep into our souls, and I knew that I had found my place.

Now, more than thirty years down the road, I know that tefilla is more than that feeling – I know that the exact Hebrew words are important and that the form is important; I know that we need the specific format in order to awaken and cultivate within ourselves the values and qualities of the true Jewish neshama, and that spiritual realities are created through the specific letters and words of our holy tefillot, within us and within the greater world. I know that following the siddur is important…..

And yet….I also know that singing and dancing our prayers is vital, too. The feelings that well up from that expansive place empower and enliven our tefillot. I know that we need both experiences, and since most of us have integrated well the siddur part, we need to relearn and experience again what it is that will open our hearts to Hashem. What was it that drew us near to Him and His Torah? What is it now that can open and connect us to Him? What is it that makes our hearts sing with love for Hashem? What can put wings to our prayers? What is it that can bring us up to that elevated place where we can really talk to Him of the deepest longings of our souls?

The Sharacharit Express may not be the time or the place, but we need to find what and when it is …..A quiet early morning on a rooftop watching the sunrise, a full and joyous Shabbes table singing up to shamayim for hours, a walk by the ocean…whatever it is, we need to find it – we need to find a way to get the heart involved in our relationship with Hashem…. And then do it. Religiously.

8 comments on “A Fresh Look at Davening

  1. I recommend using an artscroll siddur with an interlinear translation. Make it your goal to pay attention to the tranlation of each phrase as you say it. When you catch yourself in a daydream or thinking about something other than the words you are saying, gently and firmly return to the the translation. Be a bull and don’t give up when it is hard at first (at second, at third…) Just be a bull.

    Thank hashem that I am able to daven in a minyan that during the week takes 55 minutes to daven sharcharis on Tues, Weds and Friday, and 65 minutes on Monday and Thursday.

  2. A few years ago I had the pleasure of spending Shabbos in Efrat and we were treated to the “Happy Minyan”. It is a Carelbach minyan and Kabblas Shabbos can take a long time with all the singing and dancing.

    My son, at the time, was about 10 and was bewildered at the sight of ome man dancing around the chazan by himself. He thought it was so strange and asked my how come he is doing that? My response to him was, “how can we read these words and NOT DANCE?

  3. There is a very good book on this subject that I recommend. It is called Kavvana:
    Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer, by (Rabbi) Seth Kadish, Aronson publishers, 1997.

    I think people have to realize that they don’t have to say every word in the siddur and that they should just say what is necessary and do that with kavvannah, slowly. You would be surprised how many things in the siddur are relatively reccent additions that are not obligatory.

  4. I agree that kavanah in Davening is an eminent goal as an ideal but one which is tough to implement on a day by day, tefilah by tefilah basis.Weekday tefilah btzibbur is generally not conducive to real tefillah bkavanah unless you daven in a yeshiva or in a minyan somewhere with a Gadol or Tzaddik.

    I don’t have any proof for this but I strongly suspect that the need for working on it is not a new development. Chazal emphasized Kavanah, but also suggested that davening less quantity wise with the proper kavnah was preferable to davening too long without kavana . On the other hand, even Chazal understood that certain times of the year such as Elul and the Yamim Noraim were special days for Tefilah . The Rema also went so far to state that one does not repeat a Tefilah for a lack of kavanah. I don’t have any proof for this suggestion, but perhaps R Chaim Brisker devoted a major essay in the Chidushim R Chaim HaLevi Al HaRambam to kavanah in tefillah to help us realize what our proper attitude should be-awareness of standing before HaShem.

  5. I know Mordechai. I don’t know how you guys manage it. I am VERY grateful that tefilla b’tzibbur is not in our women’s package…. It’s almost impossible for me to have decent kavannah when I have to rush.

  6. I agree with the problem of fast davening. But even in a slow Yeshiva minyan, working on kavanna (concentration) is primarily an intellectual exercise, albeit an extremely difficult one. The halacha indicates that this is the right focus for Shomenah Esrai.

    Getting emotionally involved in the daily Tehillim that we recite in Pseukei D’Zimra is another matter altogether. Chava seems to be suggesting other avenues besides Shacharis for the emotional connection, but it is available to us every day in the structure of the morning Tefillah. Hopefully someday I’ll reach out and try to embrace it.

  7. The problem is that people daven too fast. How can you get into it when you are exceeding the normal speaking or money counting speed limit ? When you are speeding you have to concentrate on averting a deadly crash. How can you take off and ascend at the same time ?

    This problem exists among many Hassidim as well, don’t fool yourself. The Hassidism of the Hassidic tales may exist in storybooks, but it’s not always that easy to find it in existence here on earth these days.

  8. The emotional component of Serving Hashem seems to be lacking in much of the Torah Observant world, with the notable exception of the Chasidim.

    I have talked to a few Rebbeim about this and they acknowledged that in our times deep emotional involvement seems difficult for many.

    Personally, I find myself working more on the Kavanna aspect which is more intellectual than emotional. But prayer is described as Service of the Heart and without some deeper emotions, I agree that we are missing out.

    On Monday, Jan 2 there are three Live via Satellite Shiurim on Tefillah in the neighborhood. Hopefully there will be some practical pointers on injecting emotion into this service.

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