June 11, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Consider the following conversation between a Rabbi and a Ba’al Teshuva:

Rabbi: So what can I do for you?

BT: I’ve been struggling lately with tefillah, and I’d like your advice.

Rabbi: Go ahead, I’m listening.

BT: Well, the first issue is the length of davening. I tend to lose momentum way before the end, which distress me a little because I don’t really feel like I’m getting anything out of it, and I’m wasting my time. If there was a way to cut some out, or just stop earlier, I would probably appreciate davening more.

Rabbi: That is a very common problem; you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. For now, I would suggest maybe picking a few parts of davening that you connect to, saying those and leaving out the rest.

BT: But then won’t I be skipping important parts of davening?

Rabbi: True. But that’s not what’s important right now. Your goal should be to keep growing, not to do everything at once. You can add another tefillah each week, or month, or whatever interval works for you until you build up to saying everything.

BT: That would be a much better idea. Thanks for being understanding. It’s good to know that patience is a value in Judaism. I don’t always get that impression. I have one other issue, though.

Rabbi: Sure, let’s hear it.

BT: I know that there is a very specific way that we are supposed to daven. We daven in shul, with a minyan, and with a very specific posture. I get that there are reasons for that. But I don’t always connect to God in that way. I appreciate nature and solitude as a way to God more than I do connecting to others. I often find minyan at shul restricting and noisy—even when there isn’t talking. Is there an alternative?

Rabbi: What you pose is an interesting dilemma. On one hand there is the importance of keeping with traditional practices, and on the other hand, these practices seem to be restricting you.

BT: Exactly. I understand the importance of keeping up with ancient practices. I want to connect in that way. But when it comes to prayer, I think the negatives of traditional practice far outweigh the positives for me at this point.

Rabbi: I would say to try and find a compromise. Alternate between going to minyan and davening in solitude. Try and find ways to make minyan more meaningful, and see where that goes.

BT: But isn’t it a problem not to daven with a minyan?

Rabbi: I wouldn’t call it a problem. In general, our practices are geared towards uniformity. Having everyone doing the same thing is an important value in Judaism. However, exceptions can be made for individuals, especially when in the interest of religious growth.

BT: Thanks for all your help! You have been very understanding.

The points made by the Ba’al Tehuva in this conversation could just as easily come out of the mouth of a Jewish teenager (although maybe not as respectfully). However, our students and children often don’t get responses that reflect the same amount of patience and understanding.

Now, consider the following Jewish Day School classics:

“It’s like going to a doctor. Since the doctor knows best, you trust his advice. It’s the same with rabbis. They knew best how to have a relationship with God, so you should trust that the words they chose are best for that.”

“If we make an exception for one person, next thing you know, everyone is going to think he can do whatever he wants, and we can’t have that!”

“If you aren’t connecting to it, you probably aren’t giving it enough of a chance. Give it another shot, and then we can talk in a few weeks.”

Sound familiar?

We don’t like to compare those who are working towards a more observant life to those who are expected to be frum. But are they really so different?

By Yair Daar

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