July 10, 2024
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Making Tefillah Meaningful

Tefillah, prayer, is the heart and soul of a Jew connecting to Hashem.  But it is a script that’s hard to follow for someone with limited Jewish education, especially in shul.  Rabbi Ely Allen, a resident of Bergenfield, is the Director of Hillel of Northern New Jersey, and a faculty member of the JSS/Mechina Program at Yeshiva University.  Rabbi Allen explains the structure of davening and offers suggestions for becoming more proficient.

I still can’t follow the Hebrew davening in shul.  I start out fine but then it skips to another section and I’m lost.  Are there any recordings I can get that I can follow?

The siddur is a book and the best way to understand davening is to pick up the siddur and read it.  I advise my students who are new to Tefillah to focus on a different part each day and become familiar with the text.  Read it in English to really get the meaning.  Then work on different prayers.

Having a buddy sitting next to you in shul, telling you what is going on, is the best way to learn.   If you want to try following along with a recording, do an internet search to find audio of the prayers (A quick search revealed SiddurAudio.com).

It is also important to pray in your own words.  Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said that the siddur was never meant to replace personal prayer.  The essence of prayer is a personal relationship with Hashem – like a father in our hearts.  I find that many young people became disenchanted with organized prayer because it became more like a race to the finish.  You must find meaning in Tefillot.

What is the difference between reciting Tehillim and praying from the siddur?

All standard prayers follow a certain order and many from the book of Tehillim are included.  Tehillim is a personal outpouring; each chapter represents a different idea or challenge.    Most were composed by Dovid HaMelech but there were 10 authors.  Tehillim do not have to be read in order.  You can pick and choose according to your personal situation.

When we light Shabbos and Yom Tov candles, can we also say our own prayer to Hashem?

Candle lighting is a very propitious time for personal prayers.   Many women make requests such as the birth or health of a child.  There are many prayers compiled for this purpose or you can compose your own.  It’s your private time with Hashem.

I read about people davening at the kever of tzadikim.  Isn’t that like praying to a deceased person?

There are great Torah personalities for and against this practice.  You are not praying to the Tzadik but in his memory.  Most Sephardic and Chassidishe communities have this tradition.  The Vilna Gaon was against it.  In Halachic works there are times when to go and when not to go.  Rosh Hashana is the time when thousands travel to the kever of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman.

By Bracha Schwartz

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