Monday, August 15, 2011

Praying for Good Prayer

Rabbi J.J. Schacter was speaking in my area. Here's a snippet from the evening.

There was once a chassid in unpleasant straights. His wife was sick, his horse was lame, and his thirteen-year-old daughter was not yet engaged.

He went to rebbe and told him of his woes. The rebbe said, "In the next six months, there will be nine opportunities to say Hallel. Have great kavanah by Anah Hashem (Please, God)."

The chassid, much inspired and buoyed with new optimism, bounced off for home, and in the following six months his "Anuh Hashem Hosheu Nu! Anuh Hashem Hatzlichu Nu!" (I'm using the heimishe havara) (Please God, save now! Please God, redeem now!) reached screeching, roof-blasting heights.

However, his wife remained sick, his horse was still lame, and his daughter, now thirteen and a half, was still unbetrothed.

He returned to the rebbe with a "What gives?" attitude. "Rabbi, I had amazing focus by Anah Hashem hoshea na!"

The rebbe's fist slammed onto the table. "I didn't mean that Anah Hashem! That one is easy! I meant Anah Hashem ki ani avdecha, ki ani avdecha ben amasecha! (Please God, I am Your servant, I am Your servant the son of Your maidservant.)"

Our relationship with Hashem is about accepting authority. It isn't about Him being our Savior, it is about viewing Him as our Master, and comprehending that whatever He does is for the best. That is emunah. Not that Hashem will fulfill what we perceive as our needs. 

This perspective, which I only heard recently, has completely overhauled my davening. My concentration has been really crummy in recent years. 

While many exhort me to pray for specifics (such as a man) I never felt comfortable doing so. 

I have now heard from various rabbanim about how davening is not about asking. Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz once said, "People think davening is a complaint box!" 

My father was visiting my sister one morning, and she was trying to cajole her 8-year-old son Wesley (I have to move on to Star Trek: TNG because I'm running out of Star Wars pseudonyms) to daven. My father said to him, with a generous helping of Jewish guilt, "Tatteleh, Hashem is waiting for you to daven. He is saying, 'When is Wesley going to come talk with me?'" Wesley opened his siddur. 

Davening is about a relationship with God. Speaking with Him regularly keeps us close to Him. Davening, in place of sacrifices, is avodah; we are acknowledging Him as our Master. Tefilah every day is the equivalent of "E.T. phone home."


tikva4eva said...

"Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz once said, "People think davening is a complaint box!"

Wow-that line was incredibly powerful. Often times, I feel that my relationship with Hashem is dependent on if He will answer my requests. If not, then I feel helpless, even hopeless. But what you are saying is absolutely true. He is our Father, and treats us with kindness we cannot even fathom. We are extremely indebted towards Him.

%Shocked% said...

Beautiful... Loved it!

ZP said...

Though my eyes are closing on me, that was quite beautiful! (btw I love R' JJ Schacter--his classes were incredible)

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

The Nefesh HaChaim says that the real point of praying isn't to make requests of God but to acknowledge that our deficiencies are casting up a barrier between Him and us.
It's best therefore to pray that His world work the way He wants it to and we be a source of naches to Him.

SiBaW said...

Exactly, I believe being specific in davening isn't all that conducive. I try to follow the shita of the Maabit which extols the virtue of not specifying anything at all in davening. G-d knows what you need better than you do and Chazal knew how to beseech g-d better than we do. The complication is where your specific request isn’t in any way included in the tefilah. I guess I break the rule partially by generally just asking for siyata dishmaya with…, so I guess I don’t follow that ideal entirely.

There is another aspect to specifying what one needs in davening that works for other people. Some people feel that by specifying their requests they are ceding control to g-d. While essentially the prayer doesn’t change that aspect since g-d is always in control, however, the verbalization in and of itself can give one some inner comfort in knowing that their problem is not entirely their own.

Also, see this:

Princess Lea said...

I have specified prayer sometimes. Once our car alarm would go off whenever the car doors were locked, and someone locked them before Shabbos. I prayed that the alarm wouldn't go off for the next 25 hours so as to not disturb the neighbors.

I want it to be that my davening can be rockin' without needing something. That I can speak with Him with the same energy and devotion as I would if I desperately required something. Not easy.

SiBaW said...

So what happened with the alarm in the end?

I suspect you’re partially wrong. G-d gives us challenges to strengthen our prayer and belief. Even the Avos and Imahos were challenged in order to strengthen their prayers. There are no atheists in foxholes for a reason… Challenge motivates and changes us, for better or worse. That’s not to say that one’s prayers can’t be generally rocking, depending on what you mean by rocking, but someone in need has immense power.

Princess Lea said...

The alarm didn't go off! I was so thankful.

I always wondered about that - this is Avrohom we're talking about. He talked to Hashem regularly. He needed children withheld from him to make him daven more? I always found that explanation a little shvach.

By rockin' I mean fully absorbed, fully aware of Who I am speaking to, with no stray thoughts affecting my kavana.

SiBaW said...

Technically speaking Avrohom was able to have children, but that fact aside, Avrohom was tested in a myriad of ways. I think you’re specifically referring to Sara’s davening if I am not mistaken. I suppose elevated davening might be viewed more as a byproduct of adversity, not necessarily the goal, although I suspect that opinion might be limited to my individual perspective and knowledge. I know many people who have dealt with tremendous adversity which has only strengthened their beliefs. That’s not to say that tefilah isn’t a considerable aspect, but when the smoke clears sometimes G-d’s handiwork is very apparent. A similar idea is expressed by many after they meet their bashert. In retrospect they see a glimpse of G-d’s plan. Granted, only in hindsight does this perspective makes sense; telling someone who is going through an ordeal that their situation is G-d’s wish and that they should grow from the experience is likely to be met with derision.

The actual davening is really quite beautiful. The meticulously crafted words and sentences are a form of art. I suspect that they are often overlooked simply because we are so accustomed to saying them constantly. Perhaps a little iyun tefilah might help you attain rockin stauts, an admirable goal, although I can't personally say my daving is always rockin. While I don’t know what type of material would entice you, here are three very different approaches. Praying with Fire, Pathway to Prayer, and Bais Elokim by the Maabit

Princess Lea said...

But as Jews, we should be aware that there is a bigger picture while going through the problem; going "Ooooooh," afterward is easy. I've written on this subject before. Then there is the awareness of foot-in-tracks fallacy; recognition of how God has lined everything up after the situation falls into place is not a given.

I am aware how beautiful the words are. That's the point of Artscroll.

Premonitions of an Afterthought said...

I am once again guilty of not fully reading a post and then commenting...I apologize in advance. I just wanted to say that the picture of the Siddur Shilo MELTED my heart. My VERY first Sidduer was a Siddur Shilo. I worked hard all year learning to daven- and then at my siddur play, I was an EL-AL flight attendant in a pink tissue paper apron and blue poster board hat. At the end of the play i BEAMED when the principal handed me my very own, brand new Siddur Shilo, with my name printed in gold on the brings tears to my eyes thinking about it. I was SO proud of that siddur. Just seeing an image of a Siddur Shilo brings all that initial joy, excitement and pride in FINALLY learning to read and to daven. I guess if we can all tap into that innocent joy when we daven now- all our tefilos would be that much better. Maybe that's a small piece of the kavana puzzle. To daven like a child praying for the first time.

Princess Lea said...

That's why I posted it! I figured most had the Shiloh Siddur as their first siddur. My story was that our school distributed them with denim covers (which is a very cute and durable idea) and then many would take them to a local store who would decorate it with puff paint. I still have the photo somewhere, me in an ice cream-shaped paper crown as I clutch my new siddur with a rather goofy face of pride.