On Davening as a BT

Davening is the place where the BT can feel vindicated. Park for a moment the speed factor: that is keeping up or better yet catching up with the Minyan. In the private sense, I think most BT’s tend to take the Avodah- the job of it seriously and are shocked and outraged when in the place of prayer they occasionally find others involved in all kinds of distracting behavior including talking.

We BT’s are usually idealistic. We come to the table primarily interested in connecting with HASHEM. The Siddur is not seen as a school-book and Prayer was never experienced as an activity that was ever thrust upon us as a requirement. It is in fact one of the most safe and rewarding places for a BT. Why might that be generally so?

Reb Tzadok HaKohen said that of the three pillars on which the world stands, Torah, Avoda-Prayer, and Gemilas Chessed, two of the three improve with abundance. The more Torah a person has the greater the capacity to learn and teach they possess. The same is true of Gemilas Chassadim. The more resources one has the more they can do for others. When it comes to prayer, the opposite is true. The more one lacks or realizes their vulnerability the deeper will be the prayer. Davening is the great equalizer. This is the place where our deficiency becomes our asset.

The sincere BT is not there to unload words, or filibuster The Almighty or his conscience. The BT will tend to take the task of the heart to heart until of course he becomes a regular customer and then its time for everyone of us to long for the days when our heads felt empty but our heart were full. Chadesh Yameinu K’Kedem! Renew our days like before!!!

First published on Jan 03, 2006

13 comments on “On Davening as a BT

  1. As long as we’re discussing davening, would all and friends please be kind enough to daven for my daughter-in-law Yehudis Raizl bas Esther Yiscah? Now eight months pregnant, she suddenly felt too weak and was sent to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for tests to determine what’s wrong. Please all pray that HKB”H should send her a Refuah Sheleimah. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!

  2. I have been a follower of this website for quite a while but I think this is the first time I have posted. Much of this article and the commentary resonated with me. I remember the first time I walked into a frum shul and had to ask if services had started since people were moving about and talking etc. The men next to me laughed and said that we just weren’t to the Shma yet. Huh?

    I still keep that sense of purpose when I walk into shul and find that many shuls have kavannah to speak to a point above. Perhaps though it is just more evident in that section there or that one in front or to the left middle. I personally do not speak during services and when i lived somewhere people knew I would not speak other than to nod or wave if approached.

    We are an eclectic people but we should and wish we would come together to daven and connect. My own struggle with annoyance comes from hearing people speak in shul during davening. Still, I try to hope that by being together we do something we cannot do alone. I prefer to daven alone, but I go to minyan when I can. If we all chose to daven alone, that would make for a sad silence in the shul and not one of awe and special-ness. I will try to keep helping get to the latter.

  3. Rabbi Label Lam has spoken correctly:
    I am shocked and outraged when people-who-should-know-better talk in the synagogue when they should be praying.

    I am pleased to see Jeff Neckonoff and Kressel Housman posting messages; I have not “seen” them for a long time.

    I urge both of them to join my web site for quick easy divrei Torah by clicking on my name and then clicking on “JOIN THIS GROUP”.

  4. AAron,

    I just read your comment on davening (recently discovered the site). It’s not just FFBs who race to finish davening. A good portion of the time, whether it’s a BT or an FFB leading davening or davening by themselves (in this case, by themselves on either side of the mechitsa), I think it’s not just trying to finish in a hurry but maybe getting too comfortable with the davening and doing it on automatic pilot. But I do know what you mean by “speed davening”. Sometimes,(all right a lot of the time),I may start with everyone but then I’m not able to keep up. It still bothers me but I try to remember what a wise person (FFB) once told me when I began my journey, “Pray at your own speed, don’t try to keep up. If you do you might lose your kavannah. Don’t worry, Hashem will hear you.” When I can remember that, it helps.

  5. Oh man do I feel what you’re saying in this article. The “speed” issue in davening bothers me alot. Every time the half-kaddish is finished in Shemona Esrei I say in my head “and they’re off”, as the FFB’s race to the finish line of the amidah.

  6. To Jeff Neckonoff:

    It’s not easy to live and grow without a real supportive community. Maybe moving is a good idea-feel free to call me, your friendly BT realtor for help with that. I don’t doubt that you are able to connect with H” in your basement or anywhere for that matter, and I will leave the “minyan matter” for the male responders, but I can just tell you from my own experience, there is much POWER in group tefillah, group learning, group chesed activities. Yes, all these things can be done alone, but it’s a different level of feeling and experience altogether in a group. An enhancement. A Kehillah is a powerful unit, even when every member doesn’t have perfect kavanah at all times. Hopefully most will try to work at that. Good luck to you

  7. I completely relate to longing for those old days. That will be the subject of my post this week, IY”H.

  8. I agree completely with Rabbi Lam regarding the fact that davening is the great equalizer for BTs. I can remember standing for what was sometimes literally hours when I first got to yeshiva pouring my heart out to Hashem and begging him for help in all the areas I felt so deficeint in.

    On some level I feel that I worked so hard on davening then that it is still carrying me through to some degree even today, when it takes much more effort for me to pour my heart out as I once did.

    Davening is also a great way for a BT to learn the language. My first artscroll siddur is cluttered with little translations written in over many of the hebrew words throughout psukei d’zimra, Shema and it’s brachos, and Shemona Esrei. I acredit much of my understanding today to spending so much time on davening back then.

  9. Since 2001, as I’ve been searching & shul hopping, the only places I found Shabbos davening with kavannah are every Chabad Center I’ve gone to, as well as the Manhattan Jewish Experience. Rabbi Korngold of the LI Jewish Heritage Center also has it, but my fellow suburban Jews don’t know what the word minyan means, as there are usually a handful of men there on a typical Shabbos morning.

    I understand that it’s preferable to daven with a minyan. However, on Shabbos, in the Nassau county town I live in, the three Orthodox shuls have almost zero kavannah. As a matter of fact, the attendees can’t wait for services to end so they can go home. For that, I walk over a mile for? I’d rather stay in my house, daven in my basement and connect with Hashem. Or stay at a friend’s home in the 5 Towns and go to Chabad or Aish Kodesh where people truly come to make that connection.

    Regarding Sunday through Friday morning services, they are at SIX a.m., an insane time of the morning. Has anyone ever considered the idea that not everyone has to rush to catch a 7am train to Penn? Many of us are business owners or have varied schedules. No minyan that meets brfore 7:30am will ever see my face, as I work late, and rarely awake before 6:45. So, once again I daven in my basement, alone.

    I don’t mean to come across as a kvetch or to be negative. But this is the way it is in the non-frum areas of suburbia. What can be done, besides moving?

  10. Many BTs do/did take prayer seriously once the technical details are mastered. However if we aren’t vigilante in the war against distraction we can easily fall into the habit of davening-as-usual.

    Rabbi Yisroel Reisman used the war metaphor in a video-cast shiur on Monday about davening. He said we always need to be fighting spiritual battles. And a key part of davening is asking Hashem to help us in the those wars.

    There really is no plateauing, we are either winning or losing the battles, especially when it comes to davening.

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