Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com
When my children were young, I developed an ongoing “conversation” with Hashem. It’s wasn’t formal davening, but continuous and in some ways more meaningful. Now that my children are older, I’ve gotten back to normal davening, but I miss the feeling of closeness I had.
You are really asking what the value of formal davening is as opposed to spontaneous davening. Praying from the heart is extraordinarily powerful. It’s a way of giving oneself over to Hashem by expressing one’s essence. Our words are like little notes that we write to ourselves. We revisit what we think and what we feel when we talk to Hashem. This affects not only our closeness to Hashem but our understanding of ourselves and our ability to make something of our lives. It’s hitbodedut (solitary communion with Hashem) and hitbonenut (introspection), which is vital in avodat Hashem, but it is not davening.
The Rambam tells us that formal davening is a consequence of a decision made by the Men of the Great Assembly. When they returned from Bavel, they observed that the Jews were no longer davening in the same way. Each person followed their heart and created their own personal prayers. However davening isn’t just self -expression. It’s meant to help us form a connection to Hashem. When the Men of the Great Assembly composed the praises in the Siddur, they did it knowing the deeper meaning behind the words. When we say, “Hakel ha’gadol, ha’gibor, v’hanorah,” it’s not just acknowledging Hashem’s awesomeness. It’s raising the question in our minds, “What does awesomeness really mean?” Formal tefilah is connecting to the collective soul of Klal Yisrael. It’s supposed to change us. Therefore there is really no substitute for it.
Your question should really be what you could do to make davening from the Siddur more meaningful. Today there are many books on the subject such as, Praying With Fire and Rav Schwab on Prayer. If your Hebrew skills are up to it, I would recommend the Siddur Eis Ratzon which explains the deeper underpinnings of the tefillot in a way that touches the heart. Set aside time to learn. This will uplift and add new depth to your prayers.