Finding oneself completely baffled by davening is an experience many on us probably share. I personally had no familiarity with the siddur whatsoever when I first started, so I very quickly became a noodgy davener, always looking over my neighbor’s shoulder to find the page, and that was in a shul where it was frequently announced. Baruch Hashem, everyone was very considerate about it, and Rebbetzin Hadasa Carlebach gets an extra yasher koach for giving me my first tutorial in the siddur, later followed up by NJOP’s Hebrew Crash Courses I and II. Even after I gained familiarity and began stumbling through the Hebrew, I still always found myself falling behind everyone else. “Oh, well,” I thought. “Hashem will have to accept my inadequate prayers.”
After a year in sem, I finally did become very well-acquainted with the siddur, and Rebbetzin Marci Jablinowitz taught us what we as unmarried women ought to say daily. At that point, I became quite regular about davening, and could walk into any shul and daven with confidence.
Baruch Hashem, only a few years later, Hashem blessed me with the next monkey wrench to my davening: kids. There was no point in even starting Shemoneh Esrei when they were little. I was sure to be interrupted. I knew I was exempt for a valid reason, but I felt inadequate nevertheless.
Of course, I was wrong both times. One night, my husband baby-sat so I could go say Tehillim with the ladies on our block. Being a BT, my Hebrew was slower than everyone else’s and I managed to say only one book. But Hashem made sure I received the chelek of Tehillim that contained familiar words, words I’d practiced many times as I was struggling to learn the Pesukei D’zimra. It was then that I realized how far my early “inadequate” prayers had carried me. When I was feeling like the biggest idiot in shul, I never dreamed I’d really “make it,” that I’d someday be married and living as an integrated member of the frum world. Yet there I sat, reciting Tehillim with my neighbors and friends. And at the same time, it was clear to me that I was not justified in feeling guilty for my lack of consistent davening while my kids were so little. Hashem answered my early prayers in greater ways than I could imagine, and He would do the same for my irregular ones. Ultimately, Hashem wants our hearts, and as long as we’re giving Him that, whether in shul or at home, in a siddur or spontaneously, He will answer us.
Originally Published 1/10/2006