Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Speed of Prayer

I have asked this question a few months ago and want to ask it again for the sake of a deeper conversation.  Is a longer tefilla better?  Or is less more?

My motivation behind this questions is the fact that when some people daven or observe people in the depths of prayer, there is a sense that a skilled craftsman can be in deep focus.  But this is completely an outwardly judgmental as it is impossible to know the true focus and intention of this person. 

Take for example the shmoneh esrei prayer, also known as the “silent devotion”.  There is a custom, when praying in a school or synagogue, to wait for the rabbi to finish his/her personal davning before starting the public repetition.  This waiting period can either lead to a great sense of awe amongst the congregation or a lot of chit-chatting in shul to pass the time.  I have a friend who went to a yeshiva which customarily waits a good five extra minutes from when the students finish their shmoneh esrei and the Rabbi concludes – he has taken on the habit of opening up a book. 

Here is how I evaluate if the speed of my tefilla is appropriate:  I try to start out intensely focused on the purpose of my prayer and the words that I am saying – if (WHEN) I lose focus and notice that my mind is wandering I will speed up saying the words in a precise manner but not wanting to draw them out.  Track how far you get before you lose focus, 

I once met a rabbi who was the first to finish his personal tefilla in shul and many congregants were a buzz about how quick he davened.  I finally mustered up the courage to ask him what his methodology for tefilla was and he responded in one of the most honest and refreshing ways – he said that it was hard to keep his mind on task so he says it quickly with purpose. 

So which do you think is better, a quick tefilla or a slow one? 

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