Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Art of Davening

In my effort to share a variety of tefilla resources, I wanted to post the following Tefillah Tip (from May 2012) and acknowledge that is part of a program run by Rabbi Ephraim Epstein as part of the Orthodox Union Department of Community Services and their Tefilla Initiative.
To experience meaningful prayer is an art and a skill. There are many different portals towards meaningful prayer. For some, it is the music, the niggunim, which lift their souls and join the hearts and voices of many in unison, to praise and demonstrate gratitude to Hashem. For others, it is the poetry and beauty of the language and expressions in our prayers that inspire attention and reverence to G-d. After years of tefillah study, one of the portals I enter to achieve potent prayer is concentrating on the sources of the verses referenced in our Tefillot
Last week, we explored the verse Mi Kamocha extracted from the Song of the Sea, when our ancestors, together with the entire world cried out in joy ‘Mi Kamocha’ – ‘Who is like You G-d’, girded in holiness and glory. In this Tefillah Tip, I intend to examine the concluding phrase before the blessing of redemption – Baruch Atoh…gaal Yisrael. 
We are taught that our enslavement and dramatic exodus from Egypt is not only the seminal period in the formation of our nation Israel, but also the prototype for all future exiles and redemptions. Therefore, so many of our mitzvot and prayers refer and reflect upon our 210 years in Egypt and our miraculous departure that we reenact each year on Pesach. The mitzvot of tzitzit, tefillin, shema, kiddush, pidyon haben... are all related to our Egyptian exile and exodus. 
The challenge of the prophetic architects of our siddur was not only to invoke our past glory, but to provide genuine palpable hope and faith for Jews throughout the millennia in difficult and trying times as well as in pleasant and joyous times – always keeping it relevant. The way they accomplished this in our tefillah, was to include the verse from Jeremiah 31:10, ‘Veneemar ki fadah Hashem et Yaakov’… As a summation statement it says, ‘G-d will redeem Jacob from an even stronger enemy’ before concluding the blessing Gaal Yisrael –who redeems Israel. Chapter 31 in Jeremiah, tells of the great Exodus of Egypt (like our prayer) and then states that just as G-d redeemed us from Egypt, so too He will redeem us again anew. In 31:3 Jeremiah writes, ‘Evneych Venivneyt Betulat Yisrael ’ – I, G-d, will build a divine Third Temple that will never be destroyed. So in one moment of prayer during Maariv we invoke the euphoria of the splitting of the Red Sea in Egypt 3300 years ago and then fast forward 1000 years to the redemptive prophecy of Jeremiah in Jerusalem in 630 BCE. While praying we literally travel through history and express longing for our destiny.  
It is the usage of a perfect shade of color amid an array of colors that creates its stunning beauty within a painting. The perfectly timed correct chord amid a full concert of flowing music releases the beauty of the entire symphony. So too in our prayers, invoking a specific verse creates the perfect moment to acknowledge our past and future redemption. 
Take Home Tip:
When we notice in our prayers an array of verses from disparate sources let’s consider why they specifically have been inserted together. This will lend new meaning to our prayers.
I think as educators, you hope to teach and appreciation and knowledge for the depth of of history held within the binding of a siddur.  I am eager for more resources and ones that are active, so if you do know of any please feel free to email us at

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