Dear Rabbi Brody,
I don’t feel any kind of emotion when I go to synagogue. Praying seems to be a drag, and I feel nothing. I want to be a proper BT, but I just can’t seem to pray. What should I do?
Thanks, FR from New Jersey
The old Novardok Yeshiva remedy for firing up a person with your problem is to say the prayer “Nishmas kol chai” from the Shabbos morning service; you can say it at any time or at any place, and it works wonders. Say each word slowly, loudly, and with fervor, as if you’re counting one-hundred dollar bills. If you don’t understand the Hebrew, say the translation from an English prayer book, then go back and say the Hebrew. Contemplate every word. By the time you’re through, you’ll have thawed out. Normally, when a person says “Nishmas” like he/she should, he/she kindles a bonfire of love for Hashem in their heart.
Here’s another remedy for spiritual chill: Take a pen and paper, and make a list of all the things you are thankful for in your life. Don’t forget your eyes, ears, arms, legs, heart, kidneys, lungs, and other vital organs. Don’t forget your home, your furniture, and your clothes. Contemplate all the people in the world who lack your good fortune. Now, thank Hashem from the bottom of your heart. You’ll certainly feel a lot warmer inside.
A third remedy for spiritual chill is to say Psalm 19, outside under a clear blue sky, contemplate the magnitude of Hashem, and then gaze at the sky. Wait and see what happens to you!
A fourth remedy is to play your favorite disco/Broadway/aerobic/Chassidic melody, and plug in the words of Psalm 148 from psukei DeZimra. Now, continue with the rest of the davening with your chosen niggun in your head; your feet will be flying, and so will your heart – straight up to Hashem.
If you take all four of the above bits of advice, you’ll be warming up all of Jersey this winter.
Best wishes always, Lazer Brody
For understanding basic p’shat, read “Praise, my soul” by Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l.
Even better, get hold of his tapes.
I thought that Rabbi Brody’s advice is great. I can relate especially to the first one. But I wonder, perhaps the solution to the lack of inspiration in tfilah or in general, lies in a different area altogether. Relationship with Hashem as any relationship should be a two way street. It is hard to talk to someone or do for someone when you hear nothing back. Learning Torah is the way to put oneself on the receiving end of communication with Hashem. So my first question would be is the person happy with his Torah studies. Developing a fullfilling and challenging Torah study schedule seems like a sure way to bring inspiration into all areas of Jewish life including prayer.
How about this offbeat suggestion: Next time you enter the shul, hold the door open for someone and greet him by name with a big ol’ friendly smile. (Or, pick up a walker as you drive to shul on Friday afternoon.) Hopefully it will give you a happier disposition which will carry you through the next ten minutes. (And think how it might improve the other fellow’s davenning, too.)
My theory behind this idea is that feeling good about oneself is another crucial ingredient to praying with emotion as is thinking in awe of and feeling gratitude to Hashem.
Any readers here who want to test out this quick and easy idea to see if it works at all?
Thanks Rabbi Brody. I was also blown away by a recent entry on your site where you said,
“..almost every morning, I sing (after Baruch She’omar) Psalm 100 – Mizmor Le’Toda or “A Song of Thanks” to the tune of “Fame”, the old Irene Cara hit from the early 1980’s. That puts the rest of my morning prayers in an upbeat groove.”
Buy the book A Guide to Jewish Prayer by Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth. This is essentially a lightly edited version of his Biurei Hatefillah course that he gave to high school aged students for many years in Boston. If you learn about the origin and meaning of davenning should help add to your kavannah.
Another excellent book (2 volumes) is The World of Jewish Prayer by the late Rabbi Eli Munk. Hatzlacha.