The Shul Zoom Boom

It’s been a long haul for us Shul lovers. But we’re making the best out of difficult situation, thanks in part to technology, and particularly Zoom.

Our first use of Zoom was for online Kiddushim. A small group of us joins a Zoom meeting before Shabbos and we share a L’chaim, some words of Torah, and a discussion of the issues of the day. It’s usually about 20 minutes long. It’s not the same as a Shabbos Kiddush, but we look forward to it and it keeps us connected on a weekly basis.

We’ve also had a few Zoom life cycle events. We’ve had a vort, a wedding, and unfortunately there have been levayas and shiva visits. Of course it’s not the same as the in-person equivalents, but it does enable a degree of connect to the baal simcha or aveilah.

Another use of Zoom is for our daily Shacharis minyan. Someone davens, saying every brocha and the beginning and ending of every paragraph out loud. There are no Devarim Shel Kedusha as it is not a halachic minyan. We pace it consistently and many people have found it very helpful for their Kavana.

This cycle of the Daf Yomi has seen two major changes. More people in our Shul are learning the Daf and the OU Daf app (https://alldaf.org/) has been a tremendous additional asset. All of our Shul Daf Yomi shiurim are functioning on Zoom. Despite the availability of the OU Daf resources, people like their shiur leaders and their chaburas, and continue to attend them on Zoom. We’ve also continued all our weekly shiurim, given by members of our shul via Zoom.

Perhaps the most impactful use of Zoom has been our Rav’s online Zoom shiurim. He gives shiurim from Sunday to Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for about 30 minutes. We get very nice attendance and it’s a real chizuk to see many fellow members on a regular basis. At the end of the shiur we unmute everybody and we shmoose for a few minutes with the Rav greeting everybody in attendance. It’s a great experience and I wonder how we’ll use Zoom to supplement the live shiurim when we return.

We anxiously await returning to Shul, but we’re thankful that Hashem has provided us with the Zoom refuah in the face of our quarantine machala.

Cross Posted from http://www.shulpolitics.com/

Improving Our Davening at This Critical Time

We’re in a crisis situation. A situation which calls for us to storm the heavens with our prayers. So we step into our Shemoneh Esrai committed to do our best, and before we know it we’ve lost focus. What can we do? The first thing to know is that you’re not alone, almost everybody has the davening problem to some degree. The second thing to know is that we can improve. Here’s a path.

Davening is about connecting to Hashem in heart and mind. To connect to Hashem, we have to think about Hashem. A very important time to think about Hashem is when we’re praying and saying His Name. The Shulchan Aruch teaches that when saying the name Hashem, “we should concentrate on the meaning of how it is read, referring to His Lordship, that He is the Master of all.”

The Shulchan Aruch also says that “we should concentrate on (how it is written) the Yud-Hei – that He was, is, and always will be”, but the Mishna Berurah brings down in the name of the Gra, that this second meaning is only required when we say Hashem’s name in the Shema.

Is there any doubt in our mind that Hashem is the Master of all? He has brought the entire world to a standstill before our very eyes! When we say Hashem’s name in the brochos of Shomoneh Esrai, we should think and recognize that Hashem is the Master of all.

Start with the the first Brocha. If you catch yourself wandering in the middle of any brocha, bring yourself back to thinking about Hashem’s name when you conclude the Brocha. Don’t get discouraged when you’re not successful, just keep on making the effort. With repeated step by step effort, you’ll develop the ability to focus on Hashem’s name during davening.

We have to do our stop-the-spread hishtadlus. But more importantly, we have to turn and think about the Master of all in prayer. If not now, when?

Cross Posted on http://www.shulpolitics.com/

Taking a Step Forward after Three Hard Steps Back

It’s a tough time for worldwide Shul goers: no public shiurim, no social contact, no davening with a Tzibbur. However, there is a tremendous opportunity here to take a step to improve our davening. Let me share a practical idea.

Our spiritual purpose in life is to connect to Hashem and to His creations. The collective end point of that process is one world under G-d, with unity, love, peace and happiness for all. We connect to Hashem by thinking about Him, feeling emotionally connected to Him, and doing physical acts of spiritual connection.

Davening contains all three of these components, but the essence of davening is feeling emotionally connected, as we learn in the Gemora in Taanis, “Prayer is the Service of the Heart”. It’s also the hardest component. We can arrive at Shul, say the prayers, and because we are distracted, barely think about Him, much less feel emotionally connected.

The emotional connections that we are seeking to develop during davening are love of Hashem and awe of Hashem. Let’s look at love, which is the feeling of a deep connection. A foundational spiritual thought, and the first of the 6 constant mitzvos, is that there is one G-d who is the cause of all that exists. If we look at the wonderful things in our life, we can appreciate that Hashem caused it, with love for us. We can then start to reciprocally return that love to Him.

Every time we say the word Boruch, which is usually explained as Hashem being the source of blessing, we can appreciate the love that Hashem is showering on us with His gifts in this world. We can then try to direct our love right back at Him. There are 100 opportunities a day to feel this love, and we can try to connect at least once a day, when we say Boruch.

Spiritual growth is a step by step process. Today we have a tremendous opportunity to take one step forward, after having been propelled three hard steps back.

Reposted from http://www.shulpolitics.com/

Beyond Corona – I

We are taught that our purpose in life is to connect to Hashem and to create a world where Hashem is One and His Name is One. Since we’re spending more time alone, perhaps we can work on connecting to Hashem, so we can get Beyond Corona.

One way to connect to Hashem is to think about Him. The first constant mitzvah is “To believe that there is one G-d in the world that caused all that exists to be so”. When we read about Corona, if we add the thought that Corona and everything in the world comes from Hashem, we have performed a mitzvah and strengthened our connection to Hashem. When we try to put this into practice we will see that it is difficult, because the distraction of reading makes it difficult to think about Hashem.

Perhaps it will be easier to think about Hashem when we say His name in davening and Brachos. The Shulchan Aruch says that when mentioning the name Hashem, we should concentrate on the meaning of how it is read (Adon*i): that He is the Master of all. We should also concentrate on the Yud-Kei-Vav-Kei spelling: that He was, He is, and He always will be. This is also difficult, because we are not in the habit of concentrating when we pray. So perhaps we can try to put this in practice during the Shema and the first Brocha of Shemoneh Esrai.

If many of us try and think about Hashem’s name when we say the Shema and the first Brocha of Shemoneh Esrai, then we will have taken a tremendous first step in getting Beyond Corona.

Four Words that Fuel Spiritual Growth

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains that the key to establishing a palpable closeness to G-d when we say the Shemoneh Esrai, are the words Melekh (King), Ozer (Helper), uMoshia (Rescuer), uMogen (Shield) in the first brocha. We start off addressing G-d as a majestic but somewhat distant King. A Helper is more available and closer than a King, like a friend who we know we can call on. A Rescuer is closer than a Helper, because he is right there to save us when we need help. A Shield is closer than a Rescuer because he is surrounding us, protecting us from harm. If we say these four words slowly (4+ seconds per word), focusing on the different perceptions of closeness, we can sense Hashem’s protection.

This four word progression is also applicable to the Yomim Noraim. On Rosh Hoshana we focus on Hashem as King. In the ten days of Teshuva, we call out more in Selichos to Hashem, our Rescuer, because He is more available in this period. On Yom Kippur, we pray and confess to Hashem, our Saviour, as He saves us from the consequences of our sins. On Succos, we focus on Hashem, our Shield, through the mitzvos of the Sukkah and the feelings of protection that it generates.

The idea of the progression from King, to Helper, to Rescuer, to Shield, might help explain a question regarding brochos. Every standalone or sequence-beginning brocha must contain Hashem’s name and the word Melekh. However, the beginning of Shomeneh Esrai is missing the Melekh. Tosfos gives the most quoted answer: the first Brocha mentions Avrahom, who was the first one who made Hashem King over himself. The question still remains: why not just put the word Melekh, like we find in every other brocha?

Perhaps we can say that the word Melekh by itself represents a distant King. However in Shomeneh Esrai we are talking directly to Hashem, To help us create that conversational closeness, the Men of the Great Assembly, put the word Melekh at the end of the brocha in the progression leading to Magen. This is the relationship Avrahom personified, and that is the relationship we are pursuing in the first brocha and in the entire Shomoneh Esrai.

May we all merit to make the progression from Melekh to Magen in these upcoming Yomim Noraim, and in every tefillah that we daven.

The Selichot Experience In The Eyes Of A Ba’al Teshuvah

By Cosmic X from Jerusalem

I believe that the first time that I said selichot I was at 770 Eastern Parkway on a Saturday night with “the Rebbe”. Someone gave me the selichot booklet with old yellowed pages. I could not follow what was going on. At the end the Chasidim started singing something, I think it was some of the Aramaic that we say at the end of the selichot. I understood nothing, and I couldn’t even hum along with them since I did not know the tune. I had this embarrassed kind of feeling that one gets when you are the only one in the room that does not know what is going on. But this wasn’t a normal room. This was 770, with hundreds of black-frocked Chasidim singing and dancing while poor Cosmic X stared confused. (That weird, embarrassed and confused feeling was my lot quite often during the first year of Teshuvah.)

The rest of the selichot that year were not any better. It meant waking up earlier than usual to pray in the local synagogue. These guys had been saying the selichot since they were little kids, and they knew how to finish them off with blinding speed. (I’m not sure how many of them understood what they were saying.) All this was of course was a prelude to the Shacharit Indianapolis 500, which would be over in 25-30 minutes.

Later on when I moved to Israel my Hebrew vocabulary expanded, and my understanding of the selichot improved accordingly. The more I learned Torah, the more I understood what the authors of the Piyutim were alluding to. The composers of the selichot were great rabbis, who knew how to weave their incredible knowledge of Torah, Talmud, Midrashim and the Hebrew language into amazingly creative poetry. I also purchased an excellent book a few years ago that explains all of the selichot in depth, and I’ve really come to appreciate them. They are a true delicacy!

The bottom line of this post is that you get out of the selichot what you put into them. Take the time to learn the selichot, and find a minyan that prays at a speed that you feel comfortable with. If you are a beginner, don’t get discouraged. Selichot can and should be a meaningful experience.

Originally posted here.

In Prayer; the Medium IS the Message

Pharaoh asked Moshe to pray to end the plagues in a particular way. Why didn’t he?
Various plagues were wrought by HaShem, Moshe and Ahron.  Why was barad, in particular, brought about by Moshe?

“Try and test me” Moshe replied. “At precisely what time shall I pray אעתיר for you, your servants and your people … ridding you and your homes of the frogs so that they will only remain in the canal [i.e. the Nile]?”

— Shemos 8:5

Moshe and Ahron left the Pharaoh. Moshe cried out ויצעק to HaShem concerning the frogs that He’d brought upon the Pharaoh

— Shemos 8:8

Moshe replied “Behold I am leaving your presence. Tomorrow I will pray  אעתיר to HaShem, the mixed wild beasts will go away from the Pharaoh,  his servants and his people … Moshe left the Pharaoh’s presence and prayed ויעתר   to HaShem.

— Shemos 8:25,26

[The Pharaoh asked them] “pray העתירו to Hashem. There’s been too much of this Elokim-induced thunder and hail. I will send you/ your nation away; you will not have to stay.” … Moshe left the Pharaoh’s presence and exited the city. As soon as he spread his palms up ויפרוש כפיו to HaShem the thunder and din ceased and the hail and rain no longer fell to the ground.

— Shemos 9:28,33

There are six things which HaShem hates, seven which His Soul abominates: 1. stuck-up eyes, 2. a lying tongue, 3. and hands that shed innocent blood; 4. A heart that works out malicious thoughts, 5. feet that are quick in running to evil; 6. A false witness who exhales lies, 7. and one who causes conflict among brothers.

— Mishlei 6:16-19

Rabbi Chanina the son of Dosa would say … One whose deeds surpass his wisdom, his wisdom endures. But one whose wisdom surpasses his deeds, his wisdom does not endure.

— Pirkei Avos 3:9

There are 10 different expressions [in Lashon Kodesh-the holy tongue;] for prayer …

— Sifri on Devarim 3:23

In an abstract way we are aware of the Chazal that teaches that there are 10 near-synonymous expressions in Lashon Kodesh to describe humans communicating with HaShem. On a theoretical level we are also cognizant of the fact that diverse words carry assorted shades of meaning and that, as such, there must be 10 different ways to pray, 10 distinct media for prayer.

Yet, we are accustomed to congregational prayer during which everyone must be on the same page, both figuratively and literally. We also pray using a liturgy fixed by the anshei k’nesses hagedolah-the men of the great assembly; with later accretions canonized by tradition. And so on a practical level for us there is only one way to pray.  Gradations in the quality of our prayer vary according to levels of ones understanding of the liturgy and ones sincerity and depth of kavvanah-directing his heart and attention towards G-d. To us, the notion that varying circumstances require a different substance or even style of prayer seems utterly foreign.

In Parshas VaEra the Izhbitzer school teaches that the style and substance of prayer must react and respond to the particular needs being addressed and to the root causes of the distress that one is praying to resolve. Just as no two crises are exactly alike so too no two prayers can be clones of one another.

In each of the makkos-plagues; of frogs, mixed wild-beasts and hail we find the Pharaoh of Egypt beseeching Moshe to pray for the cessation of the makkah.  The Pharaoh is consistent. Every time he requests Divine intercession of Moshe he employs a conjugation of the word עתירה atirah-pleading. Yet only in requesting the end of the makkah of the arov– mixed wild-beasts; does Moshe actually plead with HaShem. In order to get the frogs back into the Nile Moshe employs tzeakah-shouting or screaming;  and to stop the makkah of barad-hail composed of fire and ice; Moshe prays with perishas kapayim-spreading his palms outwards and upwards.  The second Izhbitzer Rebbe, the Bais Yaakov, offers insight into the three crises and why the three different prayers were appropriate for each one.

Observing that both the makkos of tzefardea-frogs; and arov were incursions of wild animals into human habitats, the Bais Yaakov asserts that all creatures, both domesticated and wild, yearn for the proximity of human beings for they have a deep-seated, instinctive consciousness that their own actualization and fulfillment can only be brought about by human beings.  But for the vast majority of baalei chaim-animals; hobnobbing with human beings is not the proper means through which man might perfect and fulfill them. Among the Creator’s creatures Man alone is endowed with free-will and thus, with the capacity to exercise free-will to serve G-d.  These acts of avodah-serving HaShem; distinguish man from beast and are what drive away undomesticated animals from human habitats. The power inherent in various types of avodah is what make the different baalei chaim maintain their distance.

The croaking frogs and toads are distinguished by their ability to give voice to wordless cries, groans and screams. They have voices, but their voices cannot inform words.  Correspondingly, the type of prayer-based avodah that keeps frogs separate and distinct from human society is human tzeakah which is similarly inarticulate and wordless. When tzeakah is wielded by a human being it is a non-verbal, yet voice-based, form of communication.  This is why, when the time came to end the makkah of tzefardea, Moshe prayed with tzeakah.

Read more In Prayer; the Medium IS the Message

Elul is the Time to Start on the Little Things

At the beginning of Shaarei Teshuva (The Gates of Teshuva), Rabbeinu Yonah teaches that if we make our efforts in Teshuva, then Hashem will assist us in return, even to the extent of reaching the highest level of loving Him. But we have to make our efforts. Rabbi Welcher says that Elul is the time to start making efforts on the little things as we work up to dealing with some of our bigger issues.

Kavanna is a Big “Little Thing”

Where does kavanna fit in? On the one hand, we all know how difficult it is to daven a full Shomoneh Esrai with good kavanna, but on the other hand saying one brocha or doing one mitzvah with the proper kavanna is something that all of us can achieve. Being focused on Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh this year has shown me the importance of kavanna and awakened me to the fact they we can spend our whole lives involved in Torah, Mitzvos, Tefillah and Chesed, but if we are not focused on Hashem during our day to day lives, then we are not properly building our souls and achieving our purpose in this world and the next. The obvious place to start building is when we’re involved in Hashem focused activities like davening and mitzvos.

Kavanna during Mitzvos
There are three basic thoughts to have in mind before performing a mitzvah:
1) Hashem is the one who commanded this mitzvah;
2) I am the subject of that command; and
3) Through the act that I am about to perform, I am fulfilling Hashem’s command.
It’s that simple, the Commander (Hashem), the commanded (me), the fulfillment (the mitvah). So, perhaps we can focus ourselves before we do a mitzvah and have these three things in mind.

Kavanna during Prayer
Shacharis davening consists of four basic components, while Mincha and Maariv and brachos contain some subset of those components which are:
1) Thanking Hashem for the physical goodness He gives to us (Berachos/Korbanos)
2) Praising Hashem for His general awesomeness (Pesukei D’Zimra)
3) Intellectually accepting and appreciating the Kingship and Oneness of Hashem (Shema)
4) Standing before Hashem with spiritual awareness that He is the source of everything
Obviously there’s a lot to talk about here and I highly recommend Aryeh Kaplan’s Jewish Mediation as a primary source for understanding kavanna and prayer.

Kavanna during Shacharis
Let’s go through a typical Shacharis and pick some potential Kavanna points.
1) When putting on Tallis and Tefillin, have in mind the three points of Kavanna during mitzvos described above
2) When saying morning Brachos, be thankful that Hashem has given you the opportunity to say these Brochos
3) During Korbonos, say at least Parshas HaTamid and Ketores with extra focus concentrating on the simple meaning of the words
4) During Pesukei D’Zimra in Ashrei say this line with focus: Poseach Es YoDecha… – You open your hand and satisfy every living thing’s desires”. A basic understanding is that although Hashem runs the world through orderly natural laws (as symbolized by the aleph-beis structure of Ashrei), He is constantly active in running the world.
5) During Shema, before the first verse have in mind that you are accepting Hashem’s Kingship and oneship with the implication of following a Torah way of life. According to some you should have in mind that you would actually give up your life for Hashem, if necessary.
6) Before Shmoneh Esrai have in mind that you are about to stand before Hashem and pray to him, that He is awesome, and that we are relatively small compared to Him, the source of everything.

These are just some ideas. Certainly we can do one a week, or one a day, or possibly more. Whatever works for you, but let’s make the effort and earn the merit to grow closer to Hashem at this time.

A Good Time to Think About G-d

A friend of mine was in a Mussar Vaad and was instructed by the leader to think about G-d a number of times through out the day. He confessed that it was very difficult and a member of the Vaad was texting reminders throughout the day.

I faced a similar problem a number of years ago after having been inspired by the sefer Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh to think about G-d throughout the day. I set up a few recurring reminders in MS Outlook. After a week or two the reminders were quickly dismissed without much thinking about G-d.

So we’re faced with a problem. We need to think about G-d to have a relationship, but how and when? Perhaps when we mention His name during the 100 blessings we recite each day. However, as many of us will admit, we often find it difficult to focus when we’re davening and saying brachos. We’re a distracted nation.

But we need to start somewhere. I think it makes sense to start with the most important time to think about G-d, and that’s when we say the first verse of the Shema: “Listen, Israel: Hashem Is Our God, Hashem Is One”.

The fifth chapter of the Shulchan Aruch says that when we say the four letter name of Hashem, like in the Shema, we should have in mind that Hashem exists, always existed, always will exist, and He is the Master of Everything.

Based on experience, I will warn you that thinking about Hashem twice a day during the Shema is not a simple matter. It will require some effort to do it regularly.

Teshuva is a tremendous opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Hashem. Thinking about Hashem when reciting the Shema is a good step on the road to that stronger relationship.

Finding My Place in Davening

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

Hishtadlus, False Blizzards and Parshas HaMon

One good thing about the predictions of the record snow storms is that I was extremely happy that we only got 12 inches. Another good thing was the public humility of Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, who apologized on Twitter (@GarySzatkowski) for the snow totals being cut back. “My deepest apologies to many key decision makers and so many members of the general public,” Szatkowski tweeted. “You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn’t. Once again, I’m sorry.”

We can second guess the city officials for their road and transit closures, but like us, they have to do their hishtadlus to protect the citizens. And like us, it’s hard to get the hishtadlus factor exactly right, no too much and not too little. The key for us believing Jews is to remember that even after our hishtadlus, everything is in Hashem’s hands. This is something we have to continually work on to internalize.

The halachic works suggest that we read Parshas Hamon everyday to internalize this message. (Tur 1; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 1:5; Aruch Hashulchan 1:22; Shulchan Aruch HaRav 1:9). The Mishna Berurah says “And the parsha of the Manna is such that he will believe that all his livelihood comes through special Divine direction (hashgacha pratis)”.

From my observations, most people are lucky to get through all the davening, let alone recite extras like Parshas HaMon. However, it just so happens that Rebbe Mendel of Riminov said that saying Parshas HaMon on Tuesday of Parshas B’Shalach is a Segulah for Parnossa. And guest what – today is that Tuesday, and many of us are home because of the snow, so we probably have a few minutes to say it.

Here’s a link to the Art Scroll Interlinear translation of Parshas Hamon.

Teaching an Older BT New Davening Tricks

It’s amazing what we remember from our youth. I went to Hebrew School at the Clearview Jewish Center in Whitestone, NY, which was recently sold to a Montessori School, with some rights retained to a small chapel. I still remember my second grade class close to 50 years ago. We were learning how to read the Shemoneh Esrai and we had progress charts on the wall, based on the speed and accuracy of our reading. I still remember Shelley L. and how fast she read, and how fast she got through the Shomoneh Esrai. I should have emulated Shelley.

Although I went to Junior Congregation, I never was the Chazzan. After my Bar Mitzvah, I followed the path of many Conservative Jews of the time and placed my siddur, tallis and tefillin secure and safe in my closet, as I would not be needing them any time soon. When I did return to Torah and mitzvos, it was through Rabbis in Queens and Long Island, so I never spent time away at Yeshiva, and missed any opportunities to acquire public davening skills.

Fast forward to this year and I still had never davened from the Amud. In fact the first time I ever davened from the Amud was in the cemetery parking lot after my father’s levaya in April of this year. The first few weeks were rough as there is a big difference between davening privately and davening publicly.

Over the past four months, many people have commented on how much I’ve improved and I hope to improve even more. When I feel I’m in a supportive environment among friends, I do pretty well because I feel at license to daven, rather than read. In other places, where I feel a read-as-fast-as-possible pressure, I’ll fumfer over a word or two or three or four.

There are many growth opportunities in this world. Some of them require us to put ourselves out there and maybe face a little embarrassment. But if your willing to learn you can acquire new skills, and you’ll probably find that the effort was worth it.

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Beauty may be Skin-Deep but Some Hideousness is to the Bone

Today, 29 Adar Sheini is the yuhrzeit-anniversarry of the death of the great Polish Chassidic Master Reb Shloimeleh Rabinowicz; zy”a, the first Radomsker Rebbe, as well as other tzadikim and talmidei chachamim-Torah sages. The following Devar Torah is adapted from his work on the Torah and Holidays, Tiferes Shlomo, and is dedicated l’iluy nishmas –for the ascent of the sou,l of

Mrs. Lottie B. Valberg who shares the same yuhrzeit by her grandson lhbc”c Mr. Simcha Valberg, sponsor of the weely Izhbitzer Torah.

אָדָם, כִּי-יִהְיֶה בְעוֹר-בְּשָׂרוֹ שְׂאֵת אוֹ-סַפַּחַת אוֹ בַהֶרֶת, וְהָיָה בְעוֹר-בְּשָׂרוֹ, לְנֶגַע צָרָעַת–וְהוּבָא אֶל-אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן, אוֹ אֶל-אַחַד מִבָּנָיו הַכֹּהֲנִים.

If a person (Adam) has a white blotch, discoloration or spot on the skin of his body and it [is suspected] of being a sign of the leprous curse on his skin; he should be brought to Ahron the Kohen or to one of his descendants; the kohanim…

—Vayikra 13:2

זֹאת תּוֹרַת, אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ נֶגַע צָרָעַת, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תַשִּׂיג יָדוֹ, בְּטָהֳרָתוֹ

This is the Torah governing he who has within him the leprous curse…

—Vayikra 14:32

Comparing and contrasting  these two pesukim we find that there are two distinct types of metzoroim; one whose tzaraas-leprous curse is superficial; no more than skin-deep and the other whose tzaraas is described as being “within him”; at the core of his being. Moreover the first type of metzora is described as being an adam, the word in lashon kodesh –Torah Hebrew, that connotes human-beings at their highest level.

Reb Shloimeleh Radomsker, echoing the Ramban, (Vayikra 13:46 D”H v’habeged) reiterates the concept that the entire spectrum of negaim –skin ailments that exude tumah-ritual impurity, and their purification has nothing to do with physical maladies nor are the kohanim mandated by the Torah to deal with negaim dermatologists.

Negaim are HaShems way of disciplining the afflicted person and affording him the opportunity to cast his sins aside and return to HaShem where he will find mercy and healing. Read more Beauty may be Skin-Deep but Some Hideousness is to the Bone

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?
Read more On Davening as a BT

Finding a Seat When You’re a Guest in a Shul

On a Shabbos a few years ago, I was davening out of my neighborhood. As we walked into the Shul on Friday night, my host told me that we can sit anywhere, except in the aisle seats, because the more involved members of the Shul sat in those seats.

In the shul where I daven, we have Makom Kevuahs (reserved seating for Davening) and when people requested seats when we first move in, the aisle seats where the most requested and generally we allocated them to the more involved members. In both cases, involved members where the ones who volunteered most in the running of the Shul, or were members for the longest amount of time or were very generous in supporting the Shul.

I don’t think in either Shul, any guest would be asked to move if they took someone’s seat, whether they were involved members or not, but I think it makes sense that when you’re a guest in a Shul, not to take an aisle set unless you know the person who normally sits there won’t be there. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s a rule that makes sense if you’re like most people and don’t want to unnecessarily upset a person to any degree by taking their seat.

What seat should you take? Well the best section in our shul is the one furthest from the door. As far as which seat, it’s generally a good idea to ask any member already in the Shul, informing them that you don’t want to take another person’s seat.

I think some people will respond to this idea that any Shul member should be accommodating to guests and not care that somebody is taking their seat. While that is true, I think there is also a case to be made that the guest should try to avoid taking a member’s seat if they can avoid it.

In summary, as a guest try to avoid sitting in someone’s seat and as a member if somebody does sit in your seat, don’t make them feel uncomfortable.

Davening-The User’s Manual for the Siddur

Mordechai Kramer wrote a 16 page booklet which explains the basic structure and use of the siddur. It includes charts and simple explanations of how the prayer service (Shacharit, Mincha, Mariv, Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh ) is performed in shul. It is a virtual life savor for the BT. Rabbi Berel Wein has commented that it is excellent.

PREFACE

It can be happily said that much has been written about Jewish Liturgy. Commentaries concerning the depth and meaning of the Jewish Prayer Book are abundant and of good quality.

This booklet will undertake a different task. It will attempt to serve beginners as a Users’ Manual for the siddur (Jewish Prayer Book) in a brief and straightforward manner, so that anyone wishing to participate in synagogue prayer can do so.

The material herein is found in the traditional codified volumes of Jewish Law and ritual; however, these sources are not easily accessible to everyone. This inaccessibility, plus the language problem and the unfamiliarity many have with the siddur, makes Davenning a very formidable obstacle for most of the Jewish people. Overcoming this obstacle is the purpose of this work.

We will use as our model The Complete Artscroll Siddur, version Ashkenaz, since this is the most common siddur in use among the majority of English speaking Jewry. The Users’ Manual is compatible with every other siddur that follows the Ashkenaz version, but the page numbers would need adaptation.

PARTS OF THE SERVICE WHICH ARE MOST OBLIGATORY AND PARTS WHICH ARE LESS SO

In this booklet, the accent is on the most obligatory parts of the prayer service. “It is better to say little with devotion, than to say much without devotion.” If you feel that the burden is too heavy, it is better to wait until the service becomes more familiar before deciding to fill in what you have omitted.

Let’s start Davenning:
Read more Davening-The User’s Manual for the Siddur

The 7 Minute Solution

In the moments that we aspire to take our davening seriously, we are often confronted with the fact that davening with a minyan requires compromises as to the speed of the davening.

What is perplexing is that the davening seems to speed up in the wrong places. Brachos are said at a relatively slow pace, then things pick up some speed in Pesukei D’Zimra and then between Borechu and the start of Shomeneh Esrai the speeds sometimes approach that of the Japanese Bullet trains.

It’s clearly the work of the Yetzer Hora as he wants us to go fast as we enter Shema and Shomoneh Esrai, so that we don’t have the piece of mind to even attempt to say the six words of the Shema and the first paragraph of Shomoneh Esrai with kavanna.

If you try to expand the time of your minyan you’re usually fighting a losing battle as people have to get to work and are generally on tight schedules. So let me propose instead trying to institute the 7 minute solution. Try to establish that between Borechu and the start of Shomoneh Esrai there is 7 minutes of elapsed time. That will enable you to say the words at a reasonably slow enough pace to have the piece of mind to pause for a few seconds before Shema and Shomoneh Esrai to catch some kavanna.

Your minyan is probably taking between 5-6 minutes for that stretch now so you only have to reallocate 1-2 minutes from the other parts of davening. If you want to davening Berachos and Pesukei D’Zimra slower you can get to shul earlier. And you can daven Shomoneh Esrai as slow as you want and use Shomeah K’onah to listen quietly to the Sheliach Tzibbur to fulfill your Kedusha requirements. You can also try to institute the 7 minute solution at Maariv when there is a little less time pressure.

Talk to your Rav or Gabbai and see if you can convince them that this makes sense. Let us know if you meet any success.

You Have Reached the Voice Mail of Shloimie Sprintzer

Hello, you have reached the voice mail of Shloimie Sprintzer. I am currently davening. Please choose from one of the following options.

To leave a message, press 1.

To leave a message for me to call you back during kriyas haTorah, press 2.

To text-message me, so I can respond during Shmoneh Esrei, press 3.

To page me, so that I can ignore your call and allow the phone to ring, increasing in volume, and thereby disturb everyone else’s Shmoneh Esrei, press 4.

To page me, so that I can answer during Shmoneh Esrei and make inarticulate grunting noises, press 5.

If you have video — to page me, so that I can communicate through sign language or written notes during Shmoneh Esrei, press 6.

If you are davening yourself and wish to respond to Kaddish or Kedusha, press 7.

To choose from ring options that can be played during Hallel, press 8.

If you would like to hear a pre-recorded p’sak permitting tefillah b’tzibbur via cell phone from Rabbi Yisroel Meir Shmeril Tupenovsky (RIMSHOT), press 9.

To make a Kiddush HaShem, hang up, turn off your phone, and wait until you finish davening to worry about your calls.

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.
Read more Trying to Pray