Trying to Pray

As everyone knows by now, Israel is in serious trouble right now. Three soldiers are being held hostage and many have been killed. Many civilians have been killed and injured in the constant rocket attacks. Over one million Israelis in the north are sleeping in bomb shelters.

There’s nothing like watching the disaster unfold to make me realize my own helplessness. In an instinctive reaction, despite my many years living on my own and the fact that I am now married and expecting a child of my own, I spent much of the day trying to call my mother. I also did laundry—constant, obsessive washing of anything in the house that might have once touched dirt. But the one, most important thing that I should be doing, I just can’t. I can’t seem to pray.

When I first came to Jerusalem, prayer seemed so natural here. There’s really a sense of closeness to Hashem that slowly penetrates your daily existence in Israel. I could almost feel my prayers being heard. Even just earlier this year, the words of Tehilim seemed destined especially for me as I did my best to spill my heart “like water before Hashem.” I don’t know what happened, or why everything feels so different now. Sometimes I blame my pregnant body. I am constantly hungry and thirsty, usually sleepy, and just generally big and awkward. As my physical self gets bigger and rounder, my spiritual awareness seems to shrink accordingly. Or sometimes I blame my university studies. Maybe it was easy for me to pray only because, when I was in midrasha, it came so naturally to everyone around me. Maybe I’m some kind of spiritual chameleon, and when my surroundings don’t take naturally to prayer, I don’t either.

I can still feel Hashem with me, always. I still feel protected, and loved, and I know that whatever will be, will be for the good. But to reach out, to cry out to Hashem, to plead for my people, even just to talk about my day—that I can’t seem to do. The words are there, but they remain so empty of life. My prayers of a year ago, or even half a year ago, felt to me like water flowing from the depths of my heart. My prayers of today feel more like dust being beaten from an old broom.

To those of you who have written here that one of the benefits of being a BT is fire, excitement, a passion for Torah that FFBs find it harder to obtain—I envy you. I wish I had that, but I don’t. Like many of the FFBs around me, I find acceptance automatic, while passion often remains elusive.

To be honest, I’m not sure where I’m going with all of this. I don’t mean it as a complaint, even if it sounds that way. I would like feedback/advice. Has anyone else felt this way? What did you do? Are there other BTs out there who find that their excitement levels are really not any higher than those of their friends? My current plan for dealing with this is pretty simple—wait it out, hope it passes. Sometimes when you hit a slump, a muddy patch in the long path of the soul, as it were, you just have to slog forward and hope that the end is near.

And finally, and most importantly, please keep all of us in your prayers right now.

18 comments on “Trying to Pray

  1. Ora-Ez and Ser had some wonderful links to a group of Monsey volunteer firemen, including the son in law of a family who belong to our shul. I felt enormous pride in these young and not so young men who left their families, jobs and homes to protect the people and property of EY. Mi kamecha Yisrael Goy Echad BaAretz!

    One more tip-It is well known that the IDF purchases many of its bulldozers for combatting terror from Caterpillar and that some LW groups are urging that Caterpillar stop selling them to Israel. The Tefilah for the IDF includes the phrase “Soneinu tachas ragleinu” or words to that effect. One great way of helping Israel to fight terror is to simply buy stock in Caterpillar and similar companies.

  2. Thanks to everyone for encouragement/advice.

    I am actually very glad that I’ve felt inspiration/connection in the past, since at least I know what I’m working for now. That’s how a lot of things are in life–you get a burst of inspiration in the beginning, but then it takes a lot of hard work to really reach the goal.

    Anyway, I think I’m coming to understand a bit more what this particular difficulty is about, although not how to fix it. I think that it’s somehow easier for me to be fatalistic right now. Not better, of course, but easier. The thought that my prayers could actually have an effect on the situation is scary, and a little strange. It’s easier to tell myself that everything will happen as it needs to, and that Hashem is in control and everything is for the good, without concentrating too much on the idea that my actions affect others. If you really think about it, it’s so much responsibility. It terrifies me to imagine that my little successes, and therefore my failures as well, influence such huge and dramatic events. We’re talking life/death/bullets/rockets/crippling injuries/ etc levels of craziness. I don’t WANT to affect that. I don’t want to feel that my lackluster morning prayers, my early afternoon laziness, my impatience with someone at the shuk, etc, are all missed opportunities (or worse, actual damage to spiritual protection) to help my friends at the front. I feel too small and not nearly ready for a task like that. I’d rather leave it up to Hashem and go about my day.

    And if I were to internalize the idea that my little actions matter, then nothing would ever be enough. Every single death or injury or rocket would be devastating (that is, more than now), because I could never have done every single possible thing in my power to prevent it.

    So my new question is, how is it possible to internalize this idea of responsibility in the proper way? How does one understand the extent to which all of Israel are connected to each other without giving in to guilt or fear, and without forgetting that ultimately Hashem is in control? Just in general, how does the idea that my actions can change distant (relatively) happenings go with the idea that Hashem controls everything, and everything is for the good? I thank everyone in advance for more responses.

  3. It helps me to take a certain bracha or even just a few words from one of the Tefillot and say them with extra Kavana.

    Bearing in mind the present situation I’ve found that concentrating on the words – “ki lishuatcha kivinu kol hayom” in the shema koleinu bracha of the amida is a powerful response.

  4. Steve,

    There was no sarcasm at all intended. I’m literally stunned in a positive sense that PM Olmert bravely spoke like a ben Torah when the culture of “mainstream” Israel, his own party (likely) and other governmental/legal/educational(sic) heavily frown upon this type of rhetoric.

  5. Ruby (post #10) brings attention to the fact that the nation of Yishmael also pray. Rav Yissachor Frand gave a phenominal shiur on behalf of Just One Life elaborating on this theme a number of years ago. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost the cassette… and here I was so hoping to listen to it again during the 3 Weeks. If anyone remembers the name of that shiur, I would certainly buy another copy

  6. Jacob-what is your point? Isn’t wartime an inappropriate time to make a reference to a quotation from Navi by a not yet observant Jew?

  7. Wow. PM Olmert quoted from Navi. I can only hope that even on a purely temporal level this unabashed reference to Am’s Yisroel connection to Eretz Yisroel which many in the Islamic “Umma” assumed was discarded by the “secularists” serves to demoralize their contrived holier-than-thou sanctimonious rage.

  8. 100%. Point(s) taken. I was just making a comparison based on their irrational hatred and self-righteousness. Whether one believes that they are incapable of good (Amalek) or incapable of evil (Yishmael) one has denied the truth of bcheerah chofshis (human free choice). In fact unless one believes he has the capacity to do both he voids the words “good” and “evil” of any meaning at all.

  9. Rabbi Schwartz,

    When Rav Meir Goldvicht spoke in CAY many years ago, he brought numerous sources (non of which I can remember) that the nation of Yishmael is not like either of the above two categories. They, like Yisrael, understand all too well the power of tefillah. They have the same mesorah from Avraham Avinu. They pray FIVE times a day, with intensity. And their name, given by Avraham, indicates that Hashem listens to their prayers. A frightening thought. This war is both on the battlefield and on the praying field, and is all the more reason that we each have to resolve to sharpen OUR ammunition and take greater aim with it during davening. I thank this post and discussion for the reminder and the chizuk for what we must do at this time.

  10. Ora-

    I know how you feel. I’ve been unable to pray for a long time (though now that I’m in Israel for the summer it’s been getting easier)…

    I actually had a conversation over Shabbat with someone who said he never felt a spiritual high when he became frum. I told him he was lucky. Actually, I tell anyone who doesn’t feel spiritual that they are lucky. If you never have a spiritual high, you never have to come off of it. It’s much easier to just be stable.

    So I can’t offer you any useful suggestions, since I myself am still sort of in a spiritual rut, and having never been pregnant, I have no parallel experience.

    But I can say that if you ever want to talk, I’m in Israel until the 14th of August and if you e-mail me I’ll give you my Israeli cell phone number. (

    Good luck with everything.

  11. My davening became more inspired, very unexpectedly, after I read the text of PM Olmert’s speech yesterday to the Knesset.



    At the very least, this very religious appeal means he is confident that Jews in Israel will rally to such a call, which is a hopeful sign for the Jews. And if he can turn himself around, we for sure can too.

  12. “With davening, specifically Shomeneh Esrai, kavannah is a problem for (almost) everyone.”

    I agree. That’s why it’s good to read or hear reminders like this from time to time, especially during the current situation in Israel.

  13. July 17, 2006
    I once saw an amazing Torah from the Mei HaShiloach on Parshat B’shalach that may explain your problem being more related to the greater crisis than to your blessed condition (everything should go smooth and in a Mazal-dik sha’ah!):

    “Why” he asks “do we find that when the Bnai Yisrael were at the shores of the Sea of Reeds pursued by the Egyptians was their leader (Moshe Rabenu) told: ‘Now is not the time for lengthy prayers’ yet when they battled the Amalekim their fortunes in the battle rose and fell along with Moshe’s arms outstretched IN PRAYER (as per Targum ad locum)?”

    The Mei HaShiloach answers that “the Bnai Yisrael maintain the healthy balance of ‘all is in the hands of Heaven, except for the awe of Heaven’ (in other words everything is totally controlled by G-d except for how we exercise our free-will to serve him). Those nations of the world who oppose the Bnai Yisrael reject one part of the equation or the other. Either they have a world-view which states that they, rather than G-d, are in control or they fatalistically deny human free-will altogether. Pharaoh of Egypt represents the first kind of Jew hater, the amalaikim represent the second kind. We defeat our enemies by negating their particular brand of heresy/denial of reality. When fighting a Pharaoh we minimize our avodah and rely on HaShem’s control, when fighting an Amalek we emphasize our own avodah/exercise of free-will and we succeed by praying.”

    IM( Humble)O, the current enemy bears more in common with Amalek than with ancient Egypt. What with their holier than thou conviction that, not only is G-d on their side, but that unquestionably and with no moral grey areas, THEY ARE on His side (i.e. blowing up innocents is an expression of His will, chalilah, rather than their own exercise of free will to bring about evil, insAllah AbdUllah et al) AND with their unmitigated, bloodthirsty, raw and almost carnal Jew-hatred (make no mistake, despite all the propaganda and world-opinion to the contrary their wars and terrorism are not based on a grievance or a territorial dispute. They don’t hate us for what we’ve done or not done, they hate that we are, that we exist). As an Amalek-like enemy the most effective weapon we have in our arsenal is our own avodah, chiefly prayer.

    Our ornery Yetzer Harah’s will always, davka, try to stop us from doing what is most effective. It could very well be that since we are fighting and amalek maybe that’s why you’re (we’re) finding prayer so challenging right now and have a sense that it’s qualitatively different from previous dry spells.

  14. Although we have sometimes contrasted FFBs and BTs on this site, I’m not sure comparisons are the right path. As a group, we have different challenges and as individuals they vary greatly. In addition our trials and tribulations change as we develop and as our circumstances change. So we all have to face our own unique challenges at each point and each prayer of our life.

    With davening, specifically Shomeneh Esrai, kavannah is a problem for (almost) everyone. We all have our distractions of varying intensities which prevent us from focusing on what we’re doing during prayer, which is turning to Hashem, who is the source of everything.

    Rabbi Kirzner zt”l points out that when we think about something we are exhibiting an element of control, which is ironic in that one of the focuses of Shomoneh Esrai is realizing that Hashem is the one in control. Ultimately we have to give up control during davening and truly turn to Hashem. We can do the hishtadlus after davening.

    Obviously it is easier said than done, but together we can work towards helping each other reach that goal.

  15. The Gemora teaches that four things require reinforcement: Torah, good deeds, prayer, and derekh eretz. Brochos (32b) Rashi explains reinforcement as a constant attempt to improve in these areas.

    So we see, Ora, that you are certainly not alone as it is the nature of Prayer to need constant reinforcement. The question is how we get that reinforcement.

    The first step, in my opinion, is one that you have already achieved: the desire to grow in and through prayer. My Rav often says that the desire to reach a level is, in and of itself, a level.

    A second step, in my opinion is biur tefilah; study the origins, laws, meanings and depths of our fixed prayers. That will often sharpen our prayers and reinvigorate them.

    Rabbi Brody offered some practical solutions in his Remedies for Spiritual Freeze.

  16. Here’s an attempt to interpret some items here.

    Once read in a parasha sheet an explanation about the seemingly inexplicable behavior of the “Mison’n’im” the complainers – the ones who complained about the Mun (manna). They’re reaction to the miraculous gift of nourishment in a lifeless desert was to complain about “Lechem HaK’lokal” — insufficient food.

    How could anyone express ingratitude with startling impunity?

    Wish I remember who wrote this; but one interpretation of the ingratitude was reacting to the scary idea of acknowledging that everything comes from Hashem and the necessity of being “close” to Hashem.

    Even for those who are not “control freaks” it can be an ordeal to acknowledge that there are things beyond our control.

    This is in fact humility in it’s pristine form. Even for one who never craved the spotlight or being the center of attention, it takes a huge quantum leap to accept that in addition to “hishtadlus” (actions that we are required to take) there’s a point where we have admit our actions by itself is insufficient to reach the desired effect.

    For too many, davening can be soul-refreshing experience as a means to “contact” Hashem or the sense of accomplishment in fulfulling a mitzvah properly.

    But admitting that we are limited, mortal, frail beings and that davening should be performed with the thought that every breath hangs in the balance of the Eternal Creator…..that’s a level all to itself.

    We live in times where we have no choice but to reach that level.

  17. Ora (& Elin) your words are meaningful and heartfelt, and certainly relevant to those of us who are not currently expecting as well. Maybe I’m in a “batting slump” right now, but it’s taking enormous effort to step up to the plate and do the one thing that we all can do for EY. We should bear in mind here that Hashem knows all – not just our physical actions and words we speak, but intent as well. So perhaps, Ora, when we finally get those words out, we can comfort ourselves with the realization that Hashem knew how hard it was. Surely the tears I cry everytime I hear/read of something happening to my breathern in Israel must mean something!

    This also means that I should put aside my work for now, get offline, and go back to my Tehillim.

  18. Ora, your post touched me so deeply on so many levels, that even though I mostly just “lurk” on this blog (not being Jewish & all!), I was moved to comment. I have been following events in Israel with extra concern lately as I have two friends & their baby making aliyah this week and another friend leaving to study in Jerusalem the week after that. My heart & prayers go out to the hostages and their families and to all who must live with the heightened level of tension.

    Also, I am pregnant right now too (for the first time) and I am finding, as you do, how easily I am preoccupied with physical concerns.

    Most of all, though, I can relate to your feelings of spiritual dryness – because I have been there (am there?) too. I look back at times when it seemed so easy to be open to G-d and wonder why my prayers seem so stiff and formal, wonder if those “living waters” will ever break through again. But I have got through dry spells in the past and I trust that I will – and you will – this time too.

    One of my favorite psalms is 84: “They pass through the valley of Baca regarding it as a place of springs, as if the early rain had covered it wih blessing” (v. 7) I pray that when we look back at the dry places we have gone through in our lives, we will see how G-d has made them “a place of springs”.

    I hope you will accept this gentile’s prayers for Israel, for your safety, for your baby, and for you to find renewed refreshment in your prayer and worship.

    Sincerely, Elin

Comments are closed.