May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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Let’s face it … most of the time that we daven, we don’t experience a real connection to God. We say the words, often letting our minds wander or thinking about getting to our next activity. We all know that having kavanah while we pray is required, but unfortunately davening for the most part has become a rote activity for us.

I’m just as guilty as everyone else when it comes to this problem. I attend 6:30 a.m. minyan every weekday morning at shul, but it’s rare that I give the proper attention that is required for prayer. After all, there are folks at minyan who need to catch the 7:24 a.m. train to Grand Central, and others like myself who are waiting for that fresh cup of coffee and a chance to read the newspaper before their workday begins. No one likes it when the ba’al tefilla doesn’t finish Shacharit in a half hour (and maybe 40 minutes on Mondays and Thursdays).

However, I do want to share an interesting experience that I recently had, in which—quite by accident—I truly was able to focus on the prayers that I was saying.

A few weeks ago, on Friday night, I attended a Kabbalat Shabbat minyan at a neighbor’s home. The host always has a few extra siddurim for attendees, so I didn’t bother to bring one with me.

When I got to the house, most of the attendees had already arrived, and there was only one siddur left … It was an ArtScroll Transliterated Linear Siddur for Shabbat.

Truthfully, I don’t think I had ever opened up a version of this siddur. Thank God, 12 years of day school education has taught me how to read Hebrew without any assistance, and also to understand the prayers relatively well. So I never had the need to even look at a prayer book like this, let alone have the opportunity to use one. But it was the only siddur in the house left, so I took it.

A funny thing happened that evening. Those who are familiar with this siddur know that there is a lot of space between the lines, in order to accommodate the transliteration and the translation. Unlike most Hebrew-English siddurim, where the Hebrew is printed on one side and the English on the other, this siddur includes the corresponding English immediately underneath each Hebrew phrase.

Because the Hebrew sentences were broken into short phrases, and because the lines were separated by the transliteration and English translation, my eyes were forced to stop after each Hebrew phrase before reading the next phrase. This is in stark contrast to the way that I usually daven, where I continuously read the Hebrew sentences in paragraph form without a break.

My davening was understandably much more choppy. However, what the transliterated linear siddur accomplished was that it made me think about the meaning of each phrase. I wasn’t reading the transliteration or the English translation underneath each phrase. But the extra space between each phrase made me stop … and daven slower and more intensely. In short, it unintentionally increased my kavanah.

And what a beautiful set of prayers the Kabbalat Shabbat service is … and how I gained a greater appreciation for the words of the Psalms by reading them slowly that evening:

“Fill the world with the light of Your glory, so that we may rejoice and be happy in You.”

“Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad”

“May God give strength to His people, may God bless His people with peace.”

“Accept our plea and listen to our cry, You who know all secret thoughts.”

Granted it’s easier to pray more intently on Shabbat. Six days a week we go to work, take care of the house, go shoppin, and perform other daily tasks … and we also set some time to pray. However, on Shabbat, we are able to pause and reconnect with our Creator. On Shabbat, prayer is not just another item on our to-do list; it’s actually part of the day’s definition. Without the pressures and distractions of the workweek, we become more contemplative and focused—which is just the state required for true prayer.

It’s one of the reasons that I love Shabbat. Perhaps we might be able to transform some of that Shabbat feeling to our weekday lives, even though it’s hard.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking of purchasing an ArtScroll interlinear siddur to assist me in this quest. Perhaps ArtScroll can even use this benefit as a new marketing pitch.

By Michael Feldstein


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