How Are You Getting Extra Inspiration?

How are you getting extra inspiration for the Yomim Noraim?

a) Davening in a different shul.
b) Learning a new sefer.
c) Being more careful in certain halachos.
d) Davening more slowly.
e) Thinking about our crazy times and that now is the time for some real Teshuva
f) Other

60 comments on “How Are You Getting Extra Inspiration?

  1. Re the topic of getting a response from Gd:

    I went into Yom Kippur harboring negative feelings toward another frum Jew regarding a money issue, in the amount of fifty dollars.

    Absolutely, on Yom Kippur I should have been concentrating on my own aveiros and misdeeds rather than on a relatively insignificant money matter. I admit that one hundred percent. But I just couldn’t get those negative thoughts out of my mind, thinking that I was possibly “cheated” by this person.

    Motzaei Yom Kippur, I get home and there’s a letter from XYZ (not real name) financial services, which closed out my account long ago, saying that they miscalculated some late charges and fees on that old account. Included in the letter was a check for $50.30.

  2. Jay, did you receive the meaningful response you crave to your Rosh Hashanah tefillos?

    Yom Kippur and Sukkos are coming up. Pour out your heart during Neilah, or during Netilas Lulav, or on Hoshanah Rabbah (clop those shainos with real kavanah).

    I sincerely hope you get the response you crave.

  3. Mark Twain was an atheist who did not believe in Gd. Yet there were some remarkable things in his life.

    At one point he found a $50 bill in the street (worth many times its value today) which gave him the financial means to go forward in business.

    From a chance meeting aboard a ship, where someone started talking about his sister, Twain wound up with his future wife, Olivia.

    But if you had spoken with him, Twain would have denied any Divine intervention in human affairs (even though he wrote an essay in 1899 about the amazing continued survival of the Jewish people).

  4. “My issue the whole time has been a question of how to RELATE”

    When you have the financial ability to buy a new pair of shoes, Father gave you a kiss.

    When your massive headache reponds to the Tylenol, Father gave you a hug.

    When you navigate again through traffic safely to work, Father is smiling.

    When things don’t turn out like you seemed, Father is holding your hand.

    When you request something from Father and you receive it, for whatever reason it happened, Father is rooting for you that you use it wisely.

    If you live life like this, constantly bowing in your mind and saying thank you, then you won’t have a need for a direct response.

  5. Jay, we’re never going to resolve this argument unless and until Gd communicates with you in a meaningful way, unless and until you get the response that you are seeking.

    So the rest of us on Beyond BT have to pour our hearts out to the Aibershter begging Him to give you an answer.

  6. “What most offends Jay is any expression of emunah in the face of possible ambiguity.”

    Bob, that’s interesting. I’m not a fan of your one-liners, but I’m going to think about that for a day.

  7. “There will NEVER be a Bas Kol which responds to you like humans do! Too bad, get over it. Come to terms with Who G-d is. Let it go, and then pour your heart out.”

    ross, are we or are we not bonim l’hashem elokeinu? Do you say avinu malkeinu? Do we not even relate to Hashem by first invoking the AVOS?? Why do you think that is? Because relating to Avos is the first step in relating to Hashem. Yes, it’s just a mashal, but it describes the character of the relationship.

    I don’t want some disembodied bas kol any more than I want to psychologically fool myself into perceiving or feeling something that isn’t there. I want a relationship – I was always told that there is supposed to be one – and that tefilla is one way to do it, because you’re “talking to Hashem”. But the rules of this game preclude it.

    “Until you intellectually understand the secrets of the universe, you’ll think that you’re talking to a brick wall?!”

    ross, your shita is that tefilla is a chok and you just do it. I want more. By the way, I never said that I needed to intellectually understand anything. My issue the whole time has been a question of how to RELATE.

    Bob – yes, I know it’s plural. No, I can’t find one that works for me.

  8. By the way, there are people who go to haunted houses and see ghosts. They perceive certain changes in air temperature, see certain shapes, experience certain sensations. Sometimes these occurrences can be captured on film, or measured by other scientific instruments such as thermometers or barometers. I am not talking about deliberate hoaxes or the rantings of dementia.

    Just because phenomena may be irrational does not mean that they did not happen. Yes, we should be skeptical like CSI-COP Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal. If I say that Gd told me to jump off the roof you have a reason to commit me. However, there are many human beings of many different faiths, and many committed Orthodox Jews, who feel a powerful connection to Gd, and a meaningful interaction, when they pray.

  9. I know that a certain piece of meat is kosher. If you ask me how I know, I can explain it to you. (I see on the package of the meat the symbol of the kosher supervisor or mashgiach, the individual who saw the shochet shecht the steer and the lungs being checked, watched the soaking and salting and the cutting of the meat, and thereupon guaranteed me that all was done in accordance with the complex halachos set forth in the Shulchan Aruch. So I know that the piece of meat is kosher because the Orthodox Union or the O-K Laboratories has informed me so).

    My six-year-old grandson has officially outgrown a diagnosis of childhood epilepsy. The neurologist confirmed this. After three years on Keppra, watching for seizures, going for EEG’s, he is now cured. Everyone prayed for this.

    Gd responded to our prayers.

    It is not a miracle. It happens all the time that children outgrow childhood epilepsy. Some children do and some do not. I have a friend whose 21-year-old son did not outgrow childhood epilepsy and his son still gets mini seizures in the brain, requiring a hospital stay whenever that occurs.

    I was not talking to myself the past three years whenever I prayed for my grandson. I was talking to Gd.

    I prayed to Gd and got a response. You are free to call it irrational or not valid or wishful thinking or pretense or an phantom limb or an imaginary friend or a supernatural feeling or whatever else you want to call it out of your own feelings of frustration in not getting the desired interaction with, the longed-for response from, Gd.

    I am not trying to convince you. But I repeat once again: My feelings and perceptions are just as valid as yours. Calling them irrational doesn’t scientifically disprove them. Just because you don’t understand why I have those feelings and perceptions doesn’t put those feelings and perceptions beyond the realm of scientific study.

  10. I wrote “traditional ways”- plural- for a reason, Jay. You can’t find a single one or a combination that works for you?

  11. “Hashem may answer NO to me a million times, but He never RESPONDS. Can you imagine speaking to your father and He never responds to you?”

    There will NEVER be a Bas Kol which responds to you like humans do! Too bad, get over it. Come to terms with Who G-d is. Let it go, and then pour your heart out.

    Why is it that we have less of a problem? This isn’t blind faith. It’s an acceptance of the reality of how things work. Until you intellectually understand the secrets of the universe, you’ll think that you’re talking to a brick wall?!

  12. Bob – I’m working on an approach that is based on Jewish sources. (As if there is any agreement in those sources — what are the “traditional” Jewish way you are referring to? The Rambam relates to God and prayer through the intellect. The Arizal relates to prayer as a meditation on shemos haKedoshim, making tikkunim in the olamos.)

    I’m not sure the approach I’m working on fully addresses the problems I’ve laid out, but I think it will be a step in the right direction. I have no problem with the idea that we need a new m’halach in tefilla that previous generations didn’t need. We have problems that previous generations didn’t have. We have plenty of guidance from chazzal and we have halachos to keep us from straying off the path and getting lost, from being too liberal in our interpretation of chazzal. I’m not sure that we should be relating to God as did our mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers. We have our own relationship, and that comes with its own difficulties.

  13. Judy, you made Mr. Cohen very happy with that last comment.

    I still feel that the word “response” is ambiguous, so please let me clarify again. I’ll use “answer” vs. “response”.

    Let’s assume prayer means I ask you for something.

    There is an “answer” to my request: yes or no (or maybe, or on condition … etc.) But there is also a “response” – especially if you are not going to give me an immediate yes or no, then you will tell me that you heard me, or that you’re thinking, or you’ll grunt, or raise an eyebrow or scratch your head, or SOMETHING. That is the response that is even MORE basic to human interaction than the actual answer. Hashem may answer NO to me a million times, but He never RESPONDS. Can you imagine speaking to your father and He never responds to you? Can you imagine your children speaking to you and telling you what they need, and although you arrange for them to get what they need, you never respond in any way, not verbal nor non-verbal, nothing at all? That is what I can’t relate to in tefilla.

    ross, if that’s all tefilla is, a chok, then I will suck it up and put in my 2-3 hours daily for the rest of my life and that’s it, then.

    But don’t go and tell me there is some “feeling” that Hashem is listening, that there is some supernatural way to “know” it. Don’t tell me that there is a “conversation” going on or that it has anything to do with “relating” to Hashem, because that would be analogous to telling me that kosher food makes you feel better, that pork is ossur because it’s unhealthy. Bottom line is that it’s a chok. There is no conversation and there is no trichinosis and there is nothing going on that is remotely comprehensible other than that I am reciting words out loud, but not too loud, as decreed by chazzal.

    Judy says, “I perceive that Gd is listening to my tefillos, why are my claims and perceptions not valid?” The answer is because they are irrational. If I told you I could “perceive” that a certain piece of meat were kosher, you would call me the same, or have me committed.

    If you want to tell me that there is a side benefit, that the words help one convince oneself that Hashem is running the world, then I am okay with that, but that means you’re talking to yourself. And that’s ok also, but then we should call this mitzvah “talking to myself” and not “talking to God” nor “praying to God” nor “relating to God”.

  14. Jay,

    How do you propose that we humans interact with HaShem and sense His presence and activities if not in the traditional Jewish ways that you somehow can’t deal with? You need to put something on the table (you’re not an Obama who just demands from others, I hope)—if you’re really listening to us.

  15. To Jay #43: With all due respect, why is your opinion more valid than mine?

    If I know that Gd has answered my tefillos, and I perceive that Gd is listening to my tefillos, why are my claims and perceptions not valid?

    You are saying that my position is wrong and that your position is right. Okay. Go ahead. Bring proofs to convince me that I am wrong.

    I have been wrong plenty of times in my life. I am open minded. Show me that I am wrong.

    I have gotten answers to my tefillos. Not all the time. Not always the answer that I wanted. Not always right away.

    I believe that I have a meaningful interaction with Gd, in the manner in which Jewish mothers and grandmothers have always had a meaningful interaction with Gd. We pray to Gd for the continued well being of our children and grandchildren all the time.

    I don’t agree that I am talking to a brick wall. I don’t agree that there is no way to ever get any response.

    It is not the sensation of a phantom limb and it is not a six-year-old with her imaginary friend.

    Just because you feel frustrated about never getting a response doesn’t mean that other people who pray never get a response.

    Just because your personal experience in prayer is like talking to a brick wall doesn’t mean that others share that experience.

    Maybe your “communications equipment” is broken (meaning, check your tefillin).

  16. The answer to the first question is because it’s a mitzvah. It’s like you said, it’s a chok…if G-d knows what we need already, why daven? Because it’s a mitzvah. It’s not a mitzvah to speak to a brick wall, so therefore there must be something not similar, or else chazal would say that you’re yotzei by speaking to a brick wall. So therefore there must be something “happening” when you speak to G-d.

    Your second question should read “given that there is no way to perceive a response.” Everything only happens because of G-d, it just may not be because of our tefillahs, and we’re not supposed to say, I got this because I prayed. So now we go back to answer one: we daven because it’s a mitzvah.

    So why would any of this prevent someone from wanting to daven? Davening is a reality check…you verbalize the source of all bracha and the source of everything you need and want. At least three times a day we can admit that it’s not my fantastic oratory skills and it’s not a great day on Wall St. that made me rich.

    The Beis HaMikdash was also a reality check. Yet when the Kohanim gave the offerings, did they become discouraged because there was no immediate response? It’s a mitzvah.

    Both serve to clear the fog of “It’s up to my efforts”, and clarify that everything is caused by Ha-Shem.

  17. I basically can’t believe what I’m seeing. We have more serious problems than I thought.

    “I knew He was listening. How did I know? I don’t know, I just knew.”

    “When I hit 40 I began to perceive an ability to really feel that something was happening, something meaningful…”

    “I fully accept that someone can be unable, at least at times, to sense the acceptance of his prayers.” (my emphasis – in other world, a person can “sense” the acceptance of prayers sometimes)

    Blind faith and feelings – sounds like Christianity to me.

    Let’s be rational please. You are all grown-ups. The words and actions of tefilla are familiar and comforting to you. You certainly want to believe that God exists and that He is listening. To that extent, you read events in the world and your own experiences through the lens of hashgacha pratis. This is just basic psychology. You have an awareness that something exists outside of yourself, which gives you an expansive, existential feeling.

    But a connection with God, Who is a completely non-physical being, cannot be based on physical feelings?!? I guess you don’t agree with that, but I honestly don’t think you can find a mekor for basing your avodah in emotions and feelings.

    Judy: “Other people sincerely and genuinely feel that they are getting a response. ”

    People with phantom limbs sincerely and genuinely feel that the limb is there. It doesn’t make it true. It’s a dysfunction.

    People who take placebos sincerely and genuinely feel that the medicine is helping. Something may be helping, but it isn’t the medicine. (There has been much research in this area, and God has designed the brain in a clearly awesome way with an ability to affect healing via the psychological boost from a placebo. Such healing is not explained through medicine, but it is, or will be, explained through psychology and neurology.)

    “What set me off was the seemingly angry barrage of blanket general statements disputing the whole concept of prayer as an interaction.”

    There was no barrage, I was asking to understand how people are understanding what they’re doing. I’m a little disappointed that it seems people haven’t really thought through the issues of what it means “talking to God”. You claim that prayer is “interaction”. I still maintain that unless you define interaction to include imaginary friends and wishful feelings, then there is nothing there to interact with.

    I will state my position again to be clear:
    – God exists
    – God listens to tefillos
    – It is a mitzvah to be mispallel
    – People have an existential need to be mispallel
    – God answers tefillos in His own way; to our requests, sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes the answer is no.
    – We have no way of knowing if, how, or when God answers our tefillos
    – We have no way of perceiving that God is listening to our tefillos
    – There is no interaction between ourselves and God, at least not in any senseful use of the word interaction. A monologue is not a conversation, and it really stretches the term “communication” way beyond the meaning we commonly intend.
    Which leaves the questions:
    – How is the action of tefilla any different from talking to a brick wall?
    – How are we supposed to relate to God in tefilla in an honest way, assuming we are speaking to God and not a brick wall, given that there is no way to ever get any response?

  18. “If it’s a description – isn’t it the same as Rofeh Cholim and Barech haShanim? Not ALL Cholim are m’rapeh. Not ALL shanim are g’bentched.”

    Each berachah has its own nuances. For example, I believe HaShem is “Magen Avraham” regardless of how we sense our national fortunes are going at any moment. We continue as a nation despite whatever hate other people throw at us. He is “Mevarech Hashanim” even in bad times, because our existence itself depends on a level of blessing. Our prayers are heard with all their imperfections, but we work to perfect them.

  19. Granted that everyone is different, but if someone has real difficulty with something important, he should seek out some trusted person who has had a more positive experience (perception of experience, anyway) to get guidance that might help.

    I fully accept that someone can be unable, at least at times, to sense the acceptance of his prayers. What set me off was the seemingly angry barrage of blanket general statements disputing the whole concept of prayer as an interaction. Mileage varies, but can be improved.

  20. When I hit 40 I began to perceive an ability to really feel that something was happening, something meaningful, something that enabled me to concentrate and communicate — a sort of groundedness, connection…

    Mr. Cohen, in one or two of the Rav Shach books there is an anecdote about how a sincere and knowledgeable Ben Torah made an argument to Rav Shach about why he should take on a certain unusual practice, why it made perfect sense for him, etc. He had it all worked out. And Rav Shach says, well, yes, but we see that this is not the practice among Klal Yisroel, and we do not depart from the general practice merely because we think we have a better idea.

  21. “I suggest you re-evaluate what you really believe vs. what you wish to believe”

    Before I became frum, I knew He was listening. How did I know? I don’t know, I just knew. Is it something I wanted to believe? No, I didn’t want to believe in anything. If I wasn’t doing anything else Jewish, what difference would it make to me if there was a G-d who was listening to me? I should have been able to take it or leave it. I had no role models…I never saw anyone pray. I never attended services, even on the “high holy days”, whatever that meant.

    And yet…hard as it is to believe…I KNEW there was a G-d who listened. It was clear as day. Much later when I became frum and started growing in tefillah, I confirmed the ONE thing I had known.

    I’m only speaking for myself, so perhaps you’re right…it’s not good to give too quick of a response, as if everyone feels like I did.

  22. Jay #37: You have raised some very powerful and intelligent points about prayer. Obviously you are searching for an equally sophisticated answer, not a simplistic metaphor or a one sentence brushoff.

    You are saying you are OK with NO as an answer, but not OK with NO ANSWER.

    You have expressed an understanding that the answer to prayer can be non-verbal, in a form of communication other than speech.

    Suppose I pray in the early morning to Gd for strength, focus and wisdom. At the end of my prayer, I really do feel strengthened and more focused and more capable to take on the demands of the day. Did I get an answer to my prayer?

    There are corroborated narratives of instances when prayers were granted, and other corroborated narratives of instances when prayers were denied. For example, many Holocaust survivors prayed to survive the war (along with many who did not).

    It is not the same as a six-year-old with an imaginary friend. There are many mispallelim out there who do genuinely perceive a response to their prayers. It is not wishful thinking or pretense.

    You Jay sincerely and genuinely feel that you are not getting a response to your prayers. Other people sincerely and genuinely feel that they are getting a response. That doesn’t make your sense of frustration any less valid.

    If Gd is not listening to your prayers, is the problem with you, or is the problem with Gd?

    There are some very good books about tefillah out there, and some very honest and intelligent rabbonim willing to discuss your issues. I would recommend that you speak to Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro, the mora d’asra of the Bais Medrash of Bayswater. You can reach him at the website

    Be matzliach.

  23. Bob – Shomea Tefilla. We are asking Hashem to LISTEN to our tefillos. (It’s Shomea, not Aniah) That would imply that He doesn’t listen unless we ask Him to. Or perhaps it’s not a request, and we are describing Hashem as One Who listens to our tefillos? If it’s a description – isn’t it the same as Rofeh Cholim and Barech haShanim? Not ALL Cholim are m’rapeh. Not ALL shanim are g’bentched.

    Bob, I agree that Hashem hears our prayers. What I want to know is, 1) what is the nafka mina if He hears or not, if He is unable or unwilling to respond in a way that we can perceive as a response. And 2) How does one approach prayer in an intelligent and emotionally honest way if it is always a one-way obligation incumbent upon us to “communicate.” I know that millions of people pray every day, so it’s likely that I’m the one with the problem. But I see it as wishful thinking, that people just WANT to believe that there is Someone listening. The same can be said for Carl Sagan’s ridiculous request to add stuff to the Pioneer and Voyager space probes to communicate to aliens. It was a fantasy, a wish that it would eventually be received. If you don’t believe in Someone or something else out there, then one feels very alone.

    I think what is closer to the truth is similar to what Chana Leah suggested, that prayer is not really analogous to human communication even though it uses the devices of human speech.

    Judy – modern technology may accustom us to immediate gratification – but in the area of communication, if I want an immediate answer to some question, or if I just want some human interaction — it’s not because I want immediate gratification, it’s because that’s the way human interaction works. The other person responds to me in the moment, as I am speaking to them. If not verbally, then I can perceive body language or SOMETHING that tells me they are listening.

    In terms of Hashem listening to us — again, I maintain that we have no indication of that, and the best we can do is to pretend that He is listening, or somehow or other justify what we are doing. We can “believe” it the same way a six-year-old believes in the existence of her imaginary friend.

    Please note – I am not really concerned here with getting what I want. Part of tefilla is asking Hashem a bunch of times for stuff I want, but I am fine with NO as an answer. What I am not fine with is NO ANSWER.

    It’s not for nothing that Rav Wolbe calls tefilla a “chok”. (See Ali Shur vol. 1). For those of you who are quick to answer that it’s somehow obvious that Hashem is listening or that the whole concept of and reason for tefilla is clear — I find your reasoning simplistic and I suggest you re-evaluate what you really believe vs. what you wish to believe. Sorry if that comes off as harsh, but it’s elul and the clock is ticking.

  24. “but it could take eons to get a response”

    But they don’t know if there are even ETs. (If there are, I picture them watching sitcoms but we’re the “actors”. Earthling Reality TV. We would get high ratings.)

    They know it’s possible their communication is going nowhere. We know-perhaps deep, deep down-our communication (davening) is being heard. Yes, it is.

  25. Years ago, a probe going into interstellar space bore a message that hopefully would be interpreted by any E.T.’s out there. On a gold plaque were etched a drawing of a helium atom and its wavelength, plus a drawing of two human beings. Maybe some E.T.’s saw this and went, “Yum, breakfast” (I am only kidding!) but it could take eons to get a response, if any comes back at all. And then what form would the response take?

    Now, there are a lot of true narratives (corroborated and proven) that there were sincere prayers that were answered, some right on the spot. There are also many true narratives of prayers that were denied, either right then or later.

    The Gemara has a discussion of two men facing execution by hanging, both of whom prayed for a yeshua: for one, the rope broke and he was saved; for the other, the execution proceeded just as scheduled. The Gemara says that one man offered up a “sincere prayer” and the other one did not. I am sure that this passage from the Gemara provokes much discussion as to what is a “sincere prayer,” and I do not have the answer.

  26. Every weekday, three times, we say the prayer “Shomea Tefilla” as compiled by the Anshe Kenesses Hagedolah millennia ago. The idea that our prayers are heard is not an abstraction or wishful thinking or some recent frummie invention or something that only happens now and then. We may be slow to grasp the mechanics of how it’s heard and the nature and timing of the response, but the principle that it is heard is objective and non-negotiable.

  27. Jay, who is a smart and thoughtful person, is concerned about prayer being like talking to a brick wall: there is no response. To Jay, it is a one way conversation, built on the assumption and the wishful thinking that the other Party is listening. Jay is also concerned about what he calls the “unbridgeable gap” between tefilla and the response to tefilla, which may never come, or which may come much later, at a different place and in a different manner from the start of the “conversation” between human and G-d.

    I would respond first of all that we live in an age when we demand instant gratification: if our prayer for a better parnasa is not met instantly by a shower of gold coins, or the flash of a great idea worth millions, then we say our tefilla was not heard and was therefore worthless. If we get a better job six months later, or six years later, does that mean that Gd was not listening to us? If the better job never arrives, does that mean Gd does not care about us? These are serious questions about what tefilla is and what it is meant to do for us.

    A well-known rabbi was found to have stomach cancer. Everyone prayed with feeling to have him recover. Sadly, the rabbi died less than five months later. Well, were all of those prayers worthless? Were they? His rebbetzin said sadly, “Gd is not a waiter to whom one can give orders.”

    One might say that the greatest proof of the power of prayer is the continued existence of the Jewish people, after all of those determined efforts to exterminate us.

    One might also say that tefilla does have an immediate, beneficial effect upon the person praying, giving him focus and a good start on his day. In one sense, we are getting an immediate reply: we ask Gd for strength and knowledge to face the new day, and we walk out of prayer feeling immediately stronger and wiser. For other requests, such as healing for the sick people we know, or for the restoration of the Bais Hamikdash, we are just going to have to wait longer.

    Jay has legitimate, thoughtful concerns about prayer and what it means to a person in the modern world, and these concerns are best dealt with in a serious discussion with a qualified, caring Orthodox rabbi.

  28. Mr. Cohen, actually the halacha is just the opposite.

    To wear Tefillin you have to have a certain state of mind and a certain level of cleanliness. The Gemora, Rishonim, Acharonim and Poskim are concerned that we won’t have that level and that is why the average person wears tefillin just for Shacharis.

    That’s the normative halacha and I advise you to research this yourself and talk to a Rav to determine whether you are on level high enough to depart from the normative halacha in this case.

  29. Dear Ross,

    Any Orthodox Rabbi will tell you that the more time you spend wearing tefillin, the greater your merit, because every second you wear tefillin correctly is a mitzvah.

    Wearing tefillin for 61 minutes each day is more meritorious than wearing tefillin for 60 minutes, and wearing tefillin for 62 minutes each day is more meritorious than wearing tefillin for 61 minutes.

    I urge you to ask 4 or 5 Orthodox Rabbis, and see if they agree or not.

    I know that the people in my synagogue think more of me because the day I started wearing tefillin for both Shacharit and Minchah, I was suddenly given the key to a prayer room that only synagogue officers are allowed to have.

    There are now more than 750 Jews in my web site for quick Torah quotes:

    Mr. Cohen

  30. “So when the average person is not praying as successfully as he would like, he thinks there’s something wrong with himself or with the prayer process itself and he fails to give it the attention it needs to bring success.”

    I recall R. Yisroel Reisman discussing this point at one of his Navi shiurim a number of years ago. I recently found a link to it online(see attached link, 23:49 in the MP3, “the best mashal to this, is not having kavanah in davening”).

    While not the same as concentration in tefillah, or lack thereof, a related, important, and interesting example is the issue of the positive attitude of the Catholic Church to the publication of Mother Teresa’s struggles with faith. One might wonder if any gadol b’isyrael, likewise, ever had struggles with emunah (relevant, for example, is R. Hutner’s well-known letter regarding the Chafetz Chaim and gedolim biographies).

    In a recent Torah in Motion lecture(“Rabbinic Biographies”, 24:00 in the MP3) Dr. Marc Shapiro discusses the question of his publishing R. Yechiel Yaakov Weiberg’s private struggles with certain hashkafic and communal issues. While Dr. Shapiro and others felt that publication of the former’s letters was beneficial, Dr. Shapiro also discusses limits to this, and contrasts the positive attitude of the Catholic Church regarding Mother Teresa’s letters with a statement from R. Aron Lichtenstein, to the effect, that “we have nothing in Torah literature comparing to St. Augustine’s confessions”(one might add that there is also a difference in halacha between publicizing public and private sins).

    Similarly, R. Shalom Carmy writes “…I recall [R. Solveitchik] observing that gedolie yisroel unlike Christian saints and mystics avoided the confessional mode” …but today, according to R. Carmy’s understanding of R. Solveitchik, a teacher, “must lift the veil of privacy without tearing it and desecrating it”(“He Though She Was Drunk”, Tradition, 2010).

    The topic is a broad one(for one thing it may depend on exactly what what one is publicizing, as Dr. Shapiro notes in the above lecture). Perhaps the limits take into consideration that at a certain point, publicizing private struggles can have a negative side effect on the public, even if there is also, possibly, a positive effect of offering encouragement to some.

  31. May I suggest that Jewish men wear tefillin and talit during the weekday minchah prayers?

    If you already possess kosher tefillin, this will not cost you any money, but it is a significant merit, even if you only do it once or twice.

    I started doing this around seven weeks ago, and I regret not having started doing it 25 years ago.

    For a long time, I held back from doing this because I was afraid that people would somehow think less of me. But the opposite happened: they think more of me.

    May I also suggest that Jews get chizuk by joining my web site for quick Divrei Torah:

  32. Perhaps Jay is alluding to the fact that prayer is hard. I called that the Torah World’s dirty little secret.

    Most honest people will admit it privately, but you’ll hear few Rebbeim talking about that the fact that they often have difficulty with Kavana and with actually following the dictates described for prayer in Gemora Berachos.

    The halacha acknowledges this fact, but few talk about it publicly.

    So when the average person is not praying as successfully as he would like, he thinks there’s something wrong with himself or with the prayer process itself and he fails to give it the attention it needs to bring success.

    Prayer, like mitzvos and learning Torah is an activity that increases our awareness of G-d.

    Take a look at Derech Hashem where the Ramchal describes how both hashgacha and prayer works.

    I try to Keep on learning about it and working on it and accepting the fact that there are good prayer days and bad prayer days.

  33. Oops…It’s the Mabit (Rav Moshe ben Yosef of some place called Trani), not Malbit.

    Look at all the mishnayos in Brachos. What’s this all for? To whom are we talking? To Someone who not only listens, but awaits our tefillos, to proclam Ein Od Milvado and cry for our needs.

    OK, thus endeth the sermon.

  34. Bob, for all you know, I might be a real, sympathetic Rav myself. You really are way too sure of yourself.

    Besides for simanim in orach chaim, what axioms are you referring to? You are going to quote gemaras to me – halevai that we should be mispallel kol hayom? It’s a nice slogan, but nobody takes it literally. Tefilla is not one of the ikkarei emunah. There is even much machlokes about to what extent tefilla is a mitzvah deoreisa, and there is no shiur for tefilla according to many opinions.

  35. Jay,

    You need to speak with a real, sympathetic Rav to get to the essence of your difficulty. You know some halachic terminology and seem to care about this topic, but you’re having a rocky relationship with a major axiom of Judaism.

  36. Right. So therefore, it MUST be that G-d is listening to us. Otherwise, your questions would show that this mitzvah makes NO sense.

    I’m not trying to aggravate you, but your questions are based on an assumption which you won’t let go. Just follow your own logic.

    Nobody said davening isn’t frustrating sometimes…yes, it would be great to have a written response from the Head Office, but it doesn’t work like that. Why not? Nowhere does it say we must understand all of His ways.

    But once you decide that it must be that Ha-Shem is listening, then you can take a step further and explore what happens when we think that our requests aren’t being answered. But we are NOT being ignored.

    The Malbit has a very nice way of explaining these type of questions. But aside from all of
    this, we get reward for davening just like shaking a luluv or any other mitzvah. Of course, this has nothing to do our emotional concerns. We would still like to know what happens to our tefillas AFTER Ha-shem hears them but doesn’t seem to answer.

    Incidentally, when I became frum, we were taught that sometimes Ha-Shem says NO. The Malbit says something interesting…that Ha-Shem always says YES. Maybe not to our specific request, but there is always some type of result from our teffilos. Moshe was shown all of Eretz Yisroel from afar, even though he davened to go in and “see” it.

  37. ross,

    I am not following this logic: “If this is the case [that God gave the mitzvah of tefilla], then it must be G-d is listening.”

    I am sure God gave the Torah, I am sure tefilla is a mitzvah, and I am NOT sure that God is listening. And neither are you. Because there is no way to relate to Someone who is listening silently forever. It is madness to talk forever to someone and never get a response, and never stop to ask just once “are you listening to me”. And so that’s exactly what I’m asking, what kind of mitzvah is this? Why is God asking this of me? Is tefilla a chok? And just as I treat trefos as a halachic category even though there is no physical manifestation of it, so too tefilla is a chok, and we just davven “as if” Hashem is listening?

  38. If a person isn’t sure if G-d gave the Torah, then all above applies. If one is sure, than he gave all of the mitzvos. One of the mitzvos is tefillah, along with all of the details in Torah she pal pe (Mishnayos). If this is the case, than it must be G-d is listening. Otherwise, what kind of mitzvah is it to daven to the air (or a brick wall, as was stated)?

    After this, one can discuss the mechanics of tefillah…are we always answered, what happens if it doesn’t seem our tefillos help, how does davening for another person effect him and us, etc.

    So how do you know that G-d gave the Torah? That’s another post/blog.

  39. Dear Jay,

    “Do you really believe it when you say you have a “personal relationship” with God? You may want to believe it or feel that you have to believe it, but what is the nature of this “personal” relationship? On the contrary, it’s as impersonal as it gets — we never EVER get any indication that our tefillos are heard. ”

    I appreciate you taking time to comment on my comment. Yes, I believe that I have a personal relationship with Hashem. It’s as personal as I want it to be. Being able to look back at things and see true hashgacha Pratis is sometimes the BEST indication of that relationship.

    Tefillos being heard isn’t the problem, it’s seeing the results. Obviously an online forum isn’t going to convince you or give you any solid proof that your own tefillos have been answered the way you would have liked them to be.

    I could sit and give you fluff about spending time thinking about Hashem and the inner-connectedness of everything in creation, but you are probably way above that. Your questions and what you’ve written seem based on a lot of thought.

    That being written, I think you’re right about being influenced by Christian approached. Any real work on my sensing my relationship with Hashem has relating “neshama-to-neshama”.
    Regarding time spent in shul on R”H, I have found bringing a sefer to read helpful during the two days.

  40. Jay, talking to God is totally different from talking to a brick wall. The first, though certainly not the only, difference is that we’re commanded to talk to God (i.e. by praying). But if you don’t like the sound of the phrase “talking to God”, by all means call it something else.

    My original point was that during Elul I try extra hard to focus on my prayers (I acknowledged that I ought to do a better job of this all year round) and besides the inherent value of doing so (which sounds to me like what you are questioning or objecting to), the words and ideas in the prayers are chazal’s direction to us of what we should be thinking about, what our concerns should be, etc. and therefore I found it meaningful and useful to try to focus on this more during Elul.

  41. All, my apologies, as I guess I’m hijacking this “inspiration” post to discuss this basic yesod of tefilla.

    shmuel, you stated “…prayer itself is talking to God.”
    What I want to know is – in what sense is talking to God any different from talking to a brick wall? Neither answers you. Neither acknowledges your presence. And neither can interact with you in any semblance of what we humans would call a living relationship.

    Neil, I’m trying to understand what this means, when you state “we need to relate to our creator in a personal way. Remembering that we have a personal relationship with Hashem isn’t easy.” First of all, I didn’t “forget” anything, so I’m not sure what there is to “remember”. Second, what is this about “relating”? See above addressed to shmuel; I can’t relate to God as He has never spoken to me or interacted with me in any living way. A cat is million times more responsive to me than this abstract notion of God who we are speaking to in a perpetual one-way conversation.

    Do you really believe it when you say you have a “personal relationship” with God? You may want to believe it or feel that you have to believe it, but what is the nature of this “personal” relationship? On the contrary, it’s as impersonal as it gets — we never EVER get any indication that our tefillos are heard.

    Chana Leah – The section of your reply starting, “From my own perspective,” — I think that’s definitely an avenue to explore. But I would be surprised if anyone would agree with you on those points – you’re basically saying that you’re not really “speaking” to HaShem so you’re basically agreeing with me. In fact, it’s very thought-provoking, I am wondering if it helps explain Eli’s reaction to Chana. I would want to hear more of your thoughts on tefilla if you’d be willing to share. (Yet I don’t get how in the same breath you could possibly recommend Aish … they constantly spout all this “personal relationship” and “conversations with God” rhetoric.)

    Bob – What part of my reply #7 made you think I wasn’t serious? Because your pat assertions in #6 were so self evident to you, and you couldn’t fathom any intelligent disagreement on those points in your neatly packaged frum worldview, so any reply must be leitzonus?
    I’m coming from seriously wanting to identify with tefilla, given the hours upon extra hours we are all about to embark upon in the coming month – and I’m also coming from seriously feeling that tefilla not only has no value, but that it is a complete waste of time. And also feeling that many people are on robotic auto-pilot when it comes to tefilla.

    I wonder if we have been so influenced by Christian approaches to prayer – that we have physicalized it to the point where we think we are physically speaking to God and having a “relationship” with him — when the truth is that it’s much more of a neshama-to-neshama thing that Chana Leah mentioned. The problem is, l’maase, that idea is not enough to get me through 6 hours x 2 days of Rosh hashana.

  42. Jay, you are asking a good question, and one that has been asked before . Don’t give up on getting an answer–sometimes you have to ask in a few different places before you hear the answer that makes sense to you. Did you do the Aish Discovery seminar? Or have you heard Rabbi Mechanic from Chazon? I think this kind of question is addressed in both of those venues. From my own perspective, and not so great at answering these kinds of issues, I would say that the conversation we have with Hashem can’t be compared to conversations with humans. We can’t use the same criteria to know if the other side is listening and responding. Our conversations with Hashem are in the spiritual world, our neshamas speak to Him and are spoken to by Him. And you are right, the time frame for response is not comparable to the human realm either; the sense of time is completely different.

  43. Jay, where exactly are you coming from? Do you view tefilla of any kind as having value, and do you believe it is a form of communication? Or are you ridiculing it and hisbodedus in particular? If you’re serious, you deserve more of a reply.

  44. Jay–

    Can you clarify your question to me? I never said that God speaks back to me or used the word ‘conversation.’

    What were you asking me?

  45. Re: Comment #5

    Without getting into the mechanics of “hisbodedus”, would you agree that there’s a difference between:

    A)Talking about Hashem
    Example: Telling your son/daughter, “Hashem created the world as a place for us to do mitzvos.”

    B)Talking to Hashem
    Example: Saying outloud in front of your son/daughter, “Rabbono Shel Olam (Master of the World), thank you for creating the world, so that we have a place to do Mitzvos and serve you.”

    “B” might sound rather “out there”, but our we need to relate to our creator in a personal way. Remembering that we have a personal relationship with Hashem isn’t easy, especially because mainstream observant culture doesn’t promote this idea.

    One of the factors leading to people becoming “at-risk” is a feeling of not having an active relationship with Hashem.

    We can read books and talk about Hashem loving us, but to openly say (out loud), “Hashem loves me”, is something that most don’t do.

  46. Good one, cool hand bob. Real clever. Appreciate your flippant dismissal, another discussion thread brimming with promise grinds to a halt. Maybe during Elul we should all ask ourselves why we waste our time on blogs? Let’s all make a list of blogs we frequent, and be m’kabel bli neder to never visit them again, and this one can be the first on the list.

  47. 1. I don’t think that any relationship can be built through assumptions. Is your relationship with your spouse built through assumptions? Mine is built (or not) through _communication_.

    2. So the degree to which I perceive Hashem’s communicating with me completely depends on either a) the degree to which I have convinced myself that Hashem is actually communicating with me or b) the degree to which I WISH to believe that Hashem is actually communicating with me. You don’t see a problem here with circular reasoning? Wishing something to be true doesn’t make it true. Wishing that some girl likes you and is sending you signals doesn’t make it true.

    2b. There is also the unfortunate and awkward fact of an unbridgeable gap between the time I am communicating to Hashem (in tefilla) and when He returns my messages (at some other time in some other place and in some other way than what I was discussing in tefilla).

    3. As for neviim, and Moshe rabbeinu… that really wouldn’t be relevant to the topic of tefilla b’zman hazeh. As much as it is an ikkar of emuna to believe in the past existence of nevua and in the nevua of Moshe, I believe it.

  48. 1. We can assume that HaShem listens.

    2. We can perceive HaShem’s return messages through things that happen to us (or others) or through a higher level of perception. The clarity of our perceptions depends on our spiritual level. The total skeptic (not likely to pray, but you never know!) might perceive no response at all, just as he wishes.

    As for the highest level of conversation: Jay, do you accept that we have had Neviim (prophets) who conversed with HaShem as reported frequently in Tanach? (Hebrew Bible)

  49. Sholom – please elaborate on these “hisbodedus–prolonged conversations” shmuel – same for your “talking to God”

    It’s not a conversation if the other side doesn’t say anything, or indicate in some way that there is listening going on, right? How do you and others deal with this basic problem in tefilla? You may be having an imaginary conversation. But it’s not a real conversation.

  50. I find that extra focus (ie concentration) on davening is helpful because of the content of the prayers.

    1. Since prayer itself is talking to God, it increases one’s awareness of God and our dependence on Him.

    2. The different brachos of shmoneh esrei tell us exactly what chazal said that we should be focused on, and it helps me focus on the important things in life.

    3. Truly I should be doing this all year round, but one step at a time.

  51. I try to engage in hisbodedus–prolonged conversations with Hashem, with some regularity. Though I haven’t done this much in my life, there was a period not too long ago where I did this for one month straight. This was an amazing experience, although some days one feels the benefits less than others.

    I try to also follow the practice of reading something that stimulates ahavas Hashem/yiras Hashem before morning davening, a practice that Chabad chassidim advocate (with them principally through the learning of chassidus).

  52. b) I’ve been learning Rav Kook’s “Oros HaTeshuvah” with Rabbi Moshe Weinberger’s comentary.

    f) I am attempting to give myself 5-10 seconds of “quiet time” before speaking to the members of my family, if I feel myself getting impatient, upset, or angry. This is because I want to remember that I’m about to address someone with a neshama.

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