When Your Teenager Asks: How Can You Daven That Fast?

Dear Beyond BT

I would consider myself a very growth oriented BT and I’ve continued to progress over the years.

Recently my employment situation has required me to think about work when I am at home. This is a reality which can not be changed at this current time. As a result my kavannah during davening is suffering and my davening is often on the fast side.

The other day, my growth-oriented 15 year old Yeshivish son asked me how I could possibly daven that fast. I didn’t have a good answer, but someone suggested that perhaps I could at least stay in Shomoneh Esrai a little longer (by not stepping back) so at least it looks like I’m davening at a more respectable pace.

I’m a little uncomfortable with that, but at the same time I don’t want to provide bad role modeling for my son or get into a “Do as I say, not as I do” relationship.

Any suggestions on what to do and what to say to my son.


Originally Published May 13, 2009

37 comments on “When Your Teenager Asks: How Can You Daven That Fast?

  1. I could go on for hours about this topic.

    My son called me after his first day in college. He wanted to make sure he was on time for his first class, so he went to the earliest minyan in his neighborhood. From brachos to aleinu… 21 minutes.

    On a Monday!

    Then there’s the guy I see daven while I’m putting on tallis and tefillin. It’s like watching a speeded-up movie. Stand up, kiss tzitzis, sit down, stand up, sit down, hands over eyes, three steps forward, bow five times, three steps back, head on arm, bow for aleinu, out the door, all of it — I kid you not — in FOUR MINUTES!

    Thankfully, my son, who once could not daven fast enough, now complains about break-neck daveners as passionately as I do.

    About six years ago, I started giving a shiur on tefillah in hope that I would find inspiration to daven better myself. Six years later, we’re still only half-way through studying Shemoneh Esrei, and davening has become a completely different experience for me (although there is still plenty of room for improvement).

    Make a seder in Rav Schwab on Prayer. 15 minutes a day should be enough. It’s virtually guaranteed to help.

    As for the original question, How can they daven that fast?

    I still have no idea.

  2. Be REAL.

    You merited a great son who cares about Yidishkit, and having a connection with Hashem because you were real. Tell him the truth, that he’s right and you’ll try harder if you want. But don’t put on a show for him- children know what’s going on their parents hearts better than their parents do.

  3. Thanks for reposting this. I had remembered reading the “Do not imitate me” story (comment #33) somewhere, but couldn’t remember where.

    In regard to the original topic, is it supposed to be about davening/praying too fast, or communicating with teenagers?

    If the former, my solution is to daven alone, at my own pace, without distractions. It’s only way I can pray with focus and understanding. IY”H (G-d willing) someday I’ll understand how to daven with a minyan, but that day has not yet arrived.

  4. Urban Yeshiva legend says that the Brisker Rav z”l used to sweep the floors one last time himself before bedikas chometz and after setting down the broom in the corner of the kitchen turned around and said: “mehn zuhl dos nit nochmachin“= “Don’t mimick this” and that serious Briskers to this day sweep the floors one last time themselves before bedikas chometz and after setting down the broom in the corner of the kitchen turn around and say: “mehn zuhl dos nit nochmachin

  5. I wonder how many quasi-minhagim originated by imitating someone who was doing the action for strictly personal reasons.

  6. “Do as I say, not as I do” relationship.

    I don’t think this case is a good example of this classic parenting mistake.

    Instead the overall message you are modeling for your son is “As an inimatable and unique individual I found my own ways and means in Avodas HaShem and so should you!”

    When the S’fas Emes gained the Rabbistiveh in Ger after the passing of his grandfather he moved his Rebbisha chair for the “tisch” from the head of the table to the center.

    For several weeks older chasidim pestered him to do as his grandfather had done to which he replied :”I am!” Finally one screwed up the courage to challenge him and asked; “Rebbe, we don’t undertsand. Your holy Zaideh sat at the head of the table. While you are deviating from his custom and sitting in the center?”

    To which the S’fas Emes replied “You, takeh, don’t understand. My heiligeh Zaideh mimicked no one and neither will I”

  7. I have had a much better davening since the post went up. Much thanks to Mark for posting and all the insights (and the Ron link – great)!!!

    Just to quickly share the converation I had with my son — it focused on the dynamics of challenges and that as you get older sometimes life isn’t so easily compartmentalized like in school periods….we also spoke about his challenges and movement to consistency in practice…not easy. these dynamics are present in 15 year olds as well as adults.

    In terms of davening, a few thoughts and observations. Life has an ebb and flow throughout the year and my own emotional capacity to daven in a structured setting is interwined with the challenge of those peaks or the challenge of performing always at the peak. I have learned a healthy and respectful internal give and take to cope. When I find that my own davening is not as insprational as I would like it to be , I still connect in very strong ways to Ha-shem albeit for shorter periods or at points of the davening. Additionally, I have and do daven / converse throughout the day at work as I observe the politics, challenges and special providence.

    Don’t have much more time to write…keep on blogging it makes a real difference!!

  8. >David, How does Rabbi Nachman view the avodah of the structured Shomoneh Esrai as opposed to a more free flowing conversation with G-d.

    I don’t know.

    To me, the conversation we have with God creates an emotional relationship on the simplest level, whereas tefillah is from the root of pilel, to judge. One aspect of Shemoneh Esreh is to ask ourselves if we’re living up to the ideals and yearnings expressed in the blessings, which express many ideas we’d lose sight of during our mundaner affairs, such as justice, teshuvah, mashiach, Yerushalayim and Tzion. Of course, tefillah is avodah sh’b’lev, and is an emotional connection as well.

  9. 1. Are you able to “hear” each word you are saying (as an individual word)?
    2. Can you perceive and very briefly hold the coherent meaning of each phrase as you are saying it?

    If Reuven can answer yes to both, then he is fine. If he can answer yes to 1 but not 2, he is normal. If he answers “no” to both, he should slow down until he can answer yes to 1.

  10. Some people are able to enunciate really fast — some so fast you can’t even see them move their lips!

    I had a running joke with a famous kiruv professional, from an FFB background, “back in the day.” It may have even started when I commented about how much faster he had finished benching than I did at a meal. He said well, of course, you’re just getting up to speed on this, and I’ve been saying this all my life, and I can surely say anything from the liturgy ten times faster than you. I would make a joke out of the literal application of his “ten times” rule, such as by challenging him to an “Ashrei race,” etc., to see if he really could say it ten times faster than my once.

    Joking aside, the fact is that unlike RC, our kids should, by bar mitzvah age for sure, be able to bench faster than we can. “One who studies Torah as a child, to what can he be likened? — to ink, written on fresh paper.” Pirkei Avos (4:25). We make great efforts to see that our children’s Torah, in the broadest possible sense, is impressed upon them as on fresh paper in a way that ours can never be. This includes learning davening and benching, too. The language should become second nature to them in a way that it will never be for us.

    What we have to offer them, however, is that sense of how something that is adopted later — something that has to be written with heavy, sometimes awkward strokes because it is going on erased, smeared paper — can be more valuable, and valued, than what is second nature.

    Let’s hope none of us ever catch up to that “ten times as fast” pace!

  11. Re: Marks comment #11
    “The bigger issue is how to handle the inconsistencies we all have when dealing with our children.”

    One of the best things I ever heard while learning in Israel was told over by R Tuvia Kaplan on the topic of hypocracy. His model was Rabbi Akiva (who became observant at the age of 40). The upshot was that it’s totally normal and a sign of being a growth oriented person to show some level of hypocracy as the true first step towards changing ourselves.

    Let you kids know that things you struggle with and what your plan is to face these struggles. It might open up a dialogue with your children about their own struggles.

    This was an awesome post.

  12. Reading Reuven’s question reminded me of an incident that happened to me over thirty years ago: As a ten-year-old going to shul with my father, I would daven Shemoneh Esrei like, well, a ten-year-old. After all, I had an important playdate with my friends in the shul parking lot during Chazaras HaShatz. One day, my father turned to me and said, “It is not possible for you to daven Shemoneh Esrei more quickly than I do; you must not be saying all the words.” I took his words to heart, and since that time I’ve davened slowly enough to at least clearly pronounce all the words (though I’m afraid that more often than not, my kavana leaves something to be desired). And my father was right; since then, I’ve never finished Shemoneh Esrei before he does. [Recently, I told this story over to MY quick-davening ten-year-old, and now HE takes longer to finish Shemoneh Esrei than I do.]

    I would often wonder why I didn’t think my father was being hypocritical; why didn’t I think he was telling me that he was allowed to daven quickly but I was not, the classic “do as I say, not as I do.” I think the answer is that I always had great respect for my father in all matters of Judaism. Growing up “out-of-town,” I had ample opportunity to observe the sacrifices my parents made to uphold a high standard of kashrus, chinuch, and general dedication to halachah. So I never questioned my father when it came to religious matters. I accepted whatever he had to say, and if he said I had to daven more slowly, well, he must be right.

    I think that if Reuven’s son has that type of respect for his father (and it sounds like he does), he would understand if Reuven explained to him that the pressures of work make it very difficult for him to have the proper level of kavanah, but that his son, a yeshiva student fortunate enough to dedicate his entire day to “avodas HaShem” (sevice of G-d), can do better.

  13. I agree on this with FFB. We’re not often able to judge the other person’s level of attention based on his speed. We’re much better able to judge our own situation.

  14. Some people just talk faster than others. About their kavana I’m not sure, but they might very well pronounce every word correctly. My father is a fast talker. When he used to read the magillah for us he whizzed thru it in no time. I heard every word and hardly had to correct him.

  15. Well, Nathan, that’s my understanding too. That and that there are parts they’re just looking at in the siddur and not saying at all.

    But I would never actually write that. I admire your courage. (As anonymous commenters go, that is. ;-))

  16. I have been a Baal Teshuvah for about 25 years, and I asked myself: How can they pray that fast? many times.

    According to my small understanding, the people who pray very quickly are omitting sentences from each paragraph and omitting words from each sentence and omitting syllables from each word.

    Therefore, their prayers are not valid at all, not even bidieved, and they are not really praying at all.

  17. Gary, Reuven admits that his davening is not up to par and it is usually much slower. If fast davening was his norm it would be a different issue as you pointed out.

    PL, Both Reuven and I wholeheartedly agree that everyone needs to work on Emunah and Bitachon. I was just pointing out that he is not a novice in this matter.

    David, How does Rabbi Nachman view the avodah of the structured Shomoneh Esrai as opposed to a more free flowing conversation with G-d.

  18. “I think it’s important to express to our children that we realize we have shortcomings and we are working on them. I have found that that admission is one of the most important chinuch tools we have, because it is true and it is really what Hashem expects of us.”

    Before Reuven admits his shortcomings in this case to his son, he should first ascertain that he has a shortcoming!

    If Reuven is davening at or about HIS normal speed, he may wish to explain to his son that this is his style of davening, while admitting that he is finding it less effective due to stress. This could present an opportunity for father and son to respect stylistic differences while working together to achieve more focused prayer.

    Reuven, best wishes for success in ruchniut and gashmiut (spiritual and material matters.)

  19. I don’t know if anyone can sit back and say have good levels of Emunah and Bitachon; even the greatest of the spiritually great are continually working on their levels of Emunah and Bitachon. Familiarity with the classic works should give one impetus to work harder on them.

    In my perspective, moving to a high level position would ideally precipitate a parallel move to greater levels of Emunah and Bitachon.

    Reuven, you sound like a really special individual, focused on growth as well as on good parenting. Your very question indicates involvement with growth, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the struggle and challenge you grapple with will itself catapult you to greater heights in your Tefilah.

    David Schalheim, I agree with you, and actually took your words to heart myself, to address another difficulty. I thank you for that.

  20. Mark,
    If so, then it seems that it’s an issue of tirdus, being distracted by pressures, bothers and concerns, as opposed to worry about what the future bodes.

    I’d still recommend working on a loving, personal relationship with Hashem. If you really feel you’re talking to the One Who controls every aspect of creation and has a deep love for you, would you be distracted by the pressures of the work place? The deeper the emotional bond is, the less likely to be torn by other considerations.

    As Bob succinctly said, we need to focus. But without the longing and yearning to speak to Him, what good will it do to remind ourselves we’re about to talk to Him?

    A deep, heart-felt ahavas Hashem ameliorates the problem of our inconsistencies and how they affect our children.

  21. Rabbi Pliskin’s book on serenity has been helpful to me in terms of davening specifically, and life in general.

  22. Mark, you are, in your laudable effort to have us judge Reuven favorably — which has succeeded — opening some rather intriguing topics for discussion…

  23. I just got a note of thanks to everyone from Reuven.

    I also want to add the Reuven has good levels of Emunah and Bitachon and is well familiar with the classic works, it’s just that his high level job requires a lot of thought and attention at this time. When you get to upper levels of corporate finance management, it comes with the territory.

  24. Rueven, I’d recommend that you back up a step and work on emunah and bitachon (faith and trust in God). Then, the kavanah in prayer will come naturally. If you’re worried about work, the most natural thing would be to ask God for help, as we’re doing throughout our davening. Every page in the Siddur expresses in some way what you need and want, especially if you’re concerned about your future.

    You can work on emunah and bitachon through reading works such as Duties of the Heart, the Gate of Trust. Also, there’s practical material from Rav Noach Weinberg about the six constant mitzvos, which include emunah and bitachon, here: http://www.aish.com/spirituality/foundations/1_-_Know_There_is_a_God.asp

    On an emotional level, we can strengthen our emunah by speaking to God directly in a conversational manner. This is turn strengthens the connection during prayer. The Chofetz Chaim was a strong proponent of this (not to mention Rebbe Nachman, for whom hisbodidus was a major thing).

    In short, re-kindle your relationship with Hashem and prayer will become natural and you’ll be deeply involved. Then the length of your Shemonei Esreh will be an inconsequential factor.

  25. I wanted to point out that Reuven is one of the most amazing BTs I know.

    He’s humble, sincere, integrated, caring, warm, smart, friendly, honest, a great husband, a great parent, a great friend, a great employee, and a lover of humanity.

    In this phase he’s going through he is consumed by his work situation and is honest enough to admit that he’s having trouble with his Kavanna, which will definitely get corrected.

    The bigger issue is how to handle the inconsistencies we all have when dealing with our children.

  26. While my concentration is nothing to brag about, I at least try to say the words quietly in such a way that they would be intelligible to another person if I was speaking louder (as a shaliach tzibbur, for example). This naturally limits speed.

    Sometimes in shul, I really do concentrate and still find that some others are much slower than I am. This shouldn’t bother someone.

  27. I can’t believe someone wrote the mirror-image of the BBT piece I was trying to figure out how to write, myself.

    It was going to be called, “How can you daven that fast?” I am dead serious!

    I don’t understand what someone is doing who davens “that fast.” I don’t mean merely faster than I do (everyone who passes me on the highway is a maniac, everyone I pass as an idiot, I know). I mean “that fast.”

    It’s possible some people can think that fast, isn’t it? I suppose. But when you say your kavvanah is suffering so therefore you are davening too fast, this seems to answer David Linn’s question, no? When speed is a by-product of focused intensity, I’m sure it is not bad. In fact I recall that certain rebbes, and also certain baalei mussar (“ethical growth” masters and proponents), expressed skepticism about “schlepped out” silent shemona esrei‘s that did not seem to match their take of the spiritual capacity of the person. Can “the likes of that guy” really spend 15 minutes focused on talking to Hashem? That would be quite an accomplishment!

    On the other hand, if you can’t focus but you’re just pushing the words through your teeth so as to say them (and, let’s face it, for most of us, if we were to actually vocalize what our mouths are doing in those cases it would sound like gibberish), well, I think your son is right and there is no good answer.

    Bob Miller stated it well.

    And I guess the reason I couldn’t figure out how to write this piece was, well, who asked me? It’s mainly a problem, from my point of view, of judging another Yid, as long as no one disturbs me while I’m still davening. And maybe he is capable of doing it “that fast.” “Who am I to say?”

    But when out of the corner of me eye (my bad! I know!) I see someone backing up for “oseh shalom” 90 seconds after we’ve all started, it does bother me on a level I can’t quite articulate.

  28. Reuven,
    Buy a book called Praying With Fire #1.
    The format of the book is to read a page a day and it takes less than 5 minutes. It will change your davining FOREVER.
    Bahatzlacha !

  29. I don’t think slower is *always* better as there are times when a slower davening can lead to thoughts drifting. However I think it is very difficult to say a 3 minute Shomoneh Esrai with Kavannah.

    From a practical point of view, I would look towards the halacha which puts emphasis on the first Brocha and Modim in the Shomoneh Esrai. Try to slow down in those 2 brochas for starters.

    In terms of dealing with your son, I think this is a general question. We are on average, average Observant Jews and therefore some (many/most) of our practices don’t reach the highest levels.

    I think it’s important to express to our children that we realize we have shortcomings and we are working on them. I have found that that admission is one of the most important chinuch tools we have, because it is true and it is really what Hashem expects of us.

    A second point is sometimes the spiritual road is bumpier than at other times. That is a reality of life that younger children may not have experienced yet, especially if they are good students with good friends.

  30. Like it or not, while davening with a minyan for a male is qualitatively different than davening by oneself, the early minyanim value speed over kavanah. OTOH, there were and are many Gdolim whose Shemoneh Esreh was no longer than that of the average Baal HaBayis

  31. Reuven,

    Have you recently changed from praying with a minyan to praying at home? Do you find that you are praying more quickly than you used to? Is your son comparing your speed to the speed with which he and those around him in yeshivah(rebbeim, fellow students)pray?

    If the difference in speed is between the “shul Reuven” and the “home Reuven” then you may want to look into ways to maintain concentration; if the difference is between you and those at the yeshivah, you may want to ask yourself which standard is right for you.

    Doubling prayer time will not guarantee doubling concentration.

  32. Reuven…these days, it seems impossible not to bring home work…at least thoughts about work. All the unresolved issues can continue to take a defensive position in our heads. I have the same challenge as you, in that I can find my attention drifting off during my davening. My advice? Let go. Stop davening so fast. Get out of the habit. Find another minyan. It is hard to do, but well worth it. How to begin? What worked for me was making a concerted effort to daven slower from Borachu thru Shomoneh Esre. Focus as best you can on the meanings of the words and invest some time on Shabbos to read commentaries on this part of the davening. It will change everything for you, and transform the habit of “saying” the words in the siddur (what I call auctioneer davening) to “davening to the Ribbon Shel Olam”. This may be difficult, as many (if not most) weekday Shachris minyan’s daven at speeds that leave no room for kavanah. Try to come to shul 15 minutes early and start davening – whether there is a minyan there yet or not – this will give you some breathing room to be able to focus on daveing, and put the office concerns and the clock out of your mind. Ask Hashem to help you concentrate.

    Your son will notice the change. My yeshivish son did with me, and now he himself is davening slower with more concentration. At 15, he cannot understand the dynamics of the pressures we deal with at the office, nor the concerns we have in being able to pay our bills, etc. It is up to us to make an example of daveing properly, despite the relentless challenge of our work pressures. It is well worth the effort and will leave an impact not only on you, but on your son.

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