Meaningful Prayer: Consistent Dedication

29 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Herschel Reichman

Our sages teach that the prayers were enacted to correspond to the sacrifices. The korban tamid, which was brought daily in the beit hamikdash, signifies the idea of dependability and regularity. It is the concept of a continuous relationship, of absolute dedication to Hashem, which is a fundamental aspect of prayer.

We must maintain a continuous connection with our Creator. We are intrinsically bound to Him. We only exist because He wills us to. He supports us in every situation and is constantly providing for us. The Gemara says that a person should never cease praising and thanking Hashem for all that He gives us. Since it’s impossible for a person to pray all the time, the sages instituted a minimum of three times a day. We can also express our ongoing dedication to Him by involving ourselves in kindness and good deeds.

Although we don’t have the korban tamid any more, our steadfast readiness to serve Hashem day after day with dedication and love stands in its stead.





How Can I Make Tefillah Meaningful For My Daughter?

17 01 2012

Rebbetzin’s Perspective I: Class#7

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com

Rebbetzin's Perspective

Question:

My ten year old daughter finds davening boring. I can’t think of ways to inspire her except to tell her that Hashem is waiting to listen to her tefilot (prayers)and that she can ask for anything she wants, like new shoes or clothes. Can you help me with more ideas?

 

Answer:

If your daughter is not extraordinarily spiritual, like most ten year olds, she will not like davening. Accept this as appropriate for her stage of development.

 

Babies start out completely materialistic and as their spirits grow, they become more spiritually attuned. It’ll take a good two years for her to become more sensitized to prayer. All you can do during this time is make davening more appealing and inspiring by teaching her the tunes to some of the tefilot and helping her understand what the words mean. Sometimes communal davening with other people helps too.

 

Obviously she’ll need a lot of affirmation and appreciation, but ten year olds in general don’t daven with kavanah (intention), so don’t have unrealistic expectations.





Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur Davening: True Atonement

6 10 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by  Rabbi Michael Taubes

True Atonement In the Torah, Yom Kippur is referred to in the plural form as Yom Hakippurim. Rav Soloveitchik explains that atonement is associated with sacrifices, which were a major part of the Yom Kippur service. The Rambam writes that since today there are no sacrifices, teshuva atones for all of our sins. Referring to Yom Kippur in the singular might lead us to think that we cannot attain atonement today because we don’t have korbanot. Therefore, it is referred to as Yom Hakippurim

Every person approaches teshuva with his particular background. There’s repenting from fear and repenting from love. A person can do teshuva while he is still young or when he reaches old age. Therefore we say, Yom Hakippurim to allude to the many different types of teshuva and the varied levels of atonement. Another reason for the plural form is that Yom Hakippurim also applies to atonement for the dead and the living. In fact, the practice to recite Yizkor was originally associated with Yom Kippur. The dead, whose judgment is ongoing, achieve atonement on Yom Kippur too.

In the Torah, vidui is discussed in the context of korbanot. It is not mentioned in relation to Yom Kippur. During the times of the beit hamikdash, the procedure a person underwent to purify himself literally transformed him into a new being. This is the essence of Yom Kippur. A Jew must become a different person to the point where he can say to Hashem, “The decree you placed upon me doesn’t apply anymore.” This encapsulates the concepts of teshuva and tahara (purification). The idea of mechila (forgiveness) has its roots in monetary law where a person can forgive a liability. Similarly, we ask Hashem to overlook our debt of sin. When a person purifies himself it’s as though his sins are completely erased. In the Yom Kippur prayers, we say, “Ki bayom hazeh yichaper aleichem l’taher etchem.” The essence of Yom Kippur is purification and the power of the day itself brings atonement, even without korbonot. According to one opinion the atonement comes even without teshuva. That is why there is such joy on Yom Kippur, and especially at its culmination.

Our sages tell us that when a person does teshuva out of love, “z’donot naasu lo k’zechuyot,” his intentional sins becomes merits. How do we understand this?

We become a different being when we repent. The same energy and creativity that we invested in sin is now put into mitzvot

 

Selichot are prayers of forgiveness. The central motif is the recitation of the thirteen attributes, which appears numerous times throughout Neila. If we want to be the beneficiaries of Hashem‘s chesed we must live up to these attributes. We don’t recite the full vidui during Neila. This is because we’ve already confessed our specific sins throughout the day. Yom Kippur is supposed to lead us to something beyond this, to a place where our focus turns to our central mission in life and our true goals.





How can I increase my kavana (concentration) in tefila?

15 09 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com

Rebbetzin's Perspective

Question: 

How can I increase my kavana (concentration) in tefila? Can you provide some practical ideas?

 

Answer:

Create an image that speaks to you and use it to guide you through prayer. I’ll suggest one but you can use your own.

 

 

Close your eyes and picture yourself as a young child, way before you realized that your parents didn’t have much control over events. Imagine your father or mother telling you, “It’ll be ok.” Take that moment of absolute trust and transfer that feeling to Hashem. Only He cares for you in the ultimate sense and only He can give you what you need. Any image that evokes a feeling of faith, love, reliance, and dependence will work. Take it along with you when you start davening.

It’s difficult to move from an outside action-oriented world to an internal world where you have to feel absolute reliance on Hashem. Try to concentrate on the meaning of the words.

 

When you say Pisukei D’zimra, visualize drawing Hashem’s infinity into your heart. And when you get to Shemone Esrei, think about Hashem’s omnipotence and recognize that it’s only Hashem’s life force and essence that can give you anything at all.






Requests From Hashem #8

13 09 2011

 Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Requests From Hashem #8  The second section of prayer in Shemone Esrei is bakasha, asking Hashem to fulfill our individual and communal needs. The thirteen requests contained in these blessing comprise all of our fundamental needs. Whether it’s parnassa (sustenance), health, tranquility, or friendship, we need Hashem’s involvement and intervention in our lives.

There are several premises in the bakashot in Shemone Esrei,. The first premise is that I am in need. The second says Hashem has power. The third premise tells us that Hashem desires to help us and that he is the essence of goodness and kindness. And the fourth premise says that through the power of prayer, we can arouse Hashem to help us.

When we pray in times of need, and we are always in need of at least one of the thirteen requests, we must pray with perfect faith that Hashem can and will aid us.

May all our requests be answered l’tova (for the good).

 





Eating Before Davening

30 12 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Ari Jacobson

Eating Before Davening

The Gemara teaches us, based on the verse in Vayikra, “Lo tochlu al hadam,” that one may not eat or drink before Shacharit. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch writes that one who does eat is referred to in the verse, “You have cast me behind your back.”   In Hebrew, the word gabecha (back) can be interchangeably read as geyecha (arrogance). Tending to one’s own physical needs prior to acknowledging the source of one’s sustenance is haughtiness in one of its highest forms.

 

The accepted ruling in the Shulchan Aruch is that one may drink water before praying. Similarly, someone who is very weak and will be unable to have minimal concentration may eat before davening. However, at the very least, one should recite birkot hashachar beforehand. The majority of halachic opinions permit drinking coffee or tea if a person needs it to concentrate in prayer. The Mishna Berura prohibits adding milk or sugar as one may only drink what is minimally necessary. However, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach writes that in our times when most people can afford milk and sugar and are generally accustomed to it daily, it is permitted. Going beyond this and having a cappuccino or a double vanilla shake is prohibited.  The Kitzur writes further that someone who is old or weak and cannot wait till the end of davening on Shabbat and Yom Tov, when the prayers are lengthy, should daven Shacharit at home, make kiddush and eat something, and then go to shul for Mussaf.

 

How do these halachot apply to women? The Mishna writes that women are obligated to pray because they need Hashem’s mercy too.  The Rambam holds that the Torah obligation of tefilah is to pray once a day in any language as long as it includes praise, supplication, and thanks.  The specific text and times are d’rabanan. The Ramban disagrees and states that tefilah on a daily basis is completely d’rabanan. Only in times of distress does prayer becomes a Torah obligation.

The Magen Avraham notes that women in ancient times who would pray a tefillah in their own language were relying on the Rambam. Some modern day poskim continue to argue that women can fulfill their obligation with a short prayer that includes praise, supplication, and thanks. Others say that they must recite the Shemonei Esrei of Shachrit and Mincha daily. The consensus among all poskim is that women are exempt from Maariv because this was originally voluntary for men.

 

Rav Shlomo Zalman rules that the halachot of eating before davening apply equally to women.  Therefore, a woman must pray before eating unless she is weak or infirm, in which case a man would be exempt too. On Shabbat, a woman should daven whatever prayers she is accustomed to praying and then make Kiddush.

 

Many times, women who are busy with their family may make it to shul late on Shabbat. If a woman arrives when the tzibbur is already davening Mussaf, she should daven Shacharit first. Rav Akiva Eiger writes that women may be exempt from Mussaf. This is because even though Shacharit and Mincha have an element of sacrificial services, they are mainly an expression of compassion.  However, Mussaf strictly corresponds to sacrifices. Since women did not contribute to the half shekel and did not participate in the sacrifices, there is a machloket whether they are obligated to pray Mussaf at all. Therefore, for women, Shachrit takes precedence over Mussaf.





On Yom Kippur Hashem Welcomes Us Back as His Children

13 09 2010

The following inspiring Yom Kippur article is based on a Naaleh.com class by Rabbi Michael Taubes

One of the most moving and inspiring highlights of the Yom Kippur davening is Kol Nidrei. We preface this prayer with the words, “Al daas Hamakom, v’al daas hakahal. With the approval of the Omnipresent and with the approval of the congregation.” “Hamakom” is one of the names of Hashem, which connotes that He is found in every place. Why do we specifically refer to Hashem here as “Hamakom?”

Rav Soloveitchik explains that we find the name “Hamakom” used in situations where we might think that Hashem is far away. We comfort mourners with the verse “Hamakom yinachem eschem.” We remind a person grieving over a loved one that Hashem is right there with him, feeling his pain, and that he will help him through this tragedy. Similarly, in our prayers on Monday and Thursday we say, “Hamakom yirachem aleheihem,” where we pray for people who are suffering. In times of affliction one can very easily succumb to feelings of abandonment. Therefore we emphasize that Hashem never leaves us and
that He will always stand by us come what may. During the Pesach seder we recite, “Baruch Hamokom baruch hu.” Here too, while we recount the torment of our forefathers in the midst of Egyptian enslavement, we refer to Hashem as Hamakom.

On Yom Kippur we may think that our many sins have formed a barrier between us and Hashem and that He is now far away from us. Therefore we use the name Hamakom. We inject that element of chizuk and accentuate that He is still here with us waiting patiently for our return as a loving father welcoming his wayward son back home.





Shabbat Shuva: Torah & Tefila, Components of Teshuva

6 09 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Shabbos Shuva

In the Haftora of Shabbat Shuva we read, “Kechu imachem devarim v’shuvu el Hashem. Take with you words and return to Hashem.” The verse continues, “Kol tisa avon vekach tov uneshalmah parim sfaseynu. May You forgive all iniquity and accept good, and let our lips substitute for bulls.” It seems as if the end of the verse is a repetition of the beginning. The Malbim explains that the first part signifies teshuva m’yirah while the second part refers to teshuva m’ahavah. When one does teshuva out of fear, one gains an understanding of what it means to be close to Hashem and to experience the sweetness of Torah. This propels us further to continue and deepen our love for Hashem.  Teshuva m’ahava transforms sins into good deeds. Consequently, in place of sacrifices, only words will be necessary. Devarim refers to words of Torah and tefila. How do these words impact teshuva?

The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva notes that a sinner’s mitzvot are destroyed and can only be recaptured when he performs teshuva. What does this mean? Rav Solomon explains that it does not mean that the mitzvot are actually decimated. Rather, they are like burning candles hidden behind a thick veil of sin waiting to be revealed.  “Kechu imachem devarim,” confess your sins. “Imru eilav,” pray to Hashem. “Vkach tov,” allow the good energy to flow through.

This is why we recite on Kol Nidrei night, “Ohr zerua l’tzaddik ulyishrei lev simcha.” Let us bask in the light planted for tzaddikim. Now that we’ve repented, allow us the joy and benefit of those hidden mitzvot. Rav Dessler notes that a critical part of teshuva is praying to Hashem to remove the sins blocking our path so that we can ascend further in avodat Hashem. It is difficult to repent in darkness and the light of mitzvot cannot be accessed before doing teshuva.  Therefore, the first step is to do one or two mitzvot and feel its hidden sweetness. This will ignite a person’s desire to do teshuva and ultimately propel him onward.

In Timeless Seasons, Rabbi Roberts quotes the Gemara that “Kechu imachem devarim” refers to words of Torah. Without knowing what is wrong a person cannot see the error of his ways. Therefore, a pivotal part of the teshuva process is studying the Torah, particularly halacha. One can only be a true servant of Hashem if he studies the details of how to be one.

On Shabbat Shuva, the prophet Hoshea adjures us, “Shuva Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha. Return   O Israel to Hashem.” The greatest aspect of teshuva is “Ein od milvado,” recognizing that there is no entity that we can rely on, but Hashem. Physical strength, finances, and well connected friends, are all illusory and transient.  Just as an orphan has no one to turn to but Hashem, our only real hope is our Father in Heaven.





Meaningful Prayer- Asking For Mercy

3 08 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

visa

The core section of Shemoneh Esrei is the blessings of bakasha – asking for mercy. This comes after we have already established through the first three blessings of praise, that Hashem has the power and will to help us in any way He sees fit. The Rambam writes that the thirteen requests for individual and communal support are archetypes for all personal requests that a person may have. Many of these requests are spelled out specifically. The thirteenth blessing of Shema Koleinu is a catch-all blessing where we can ask Hashem to listen to all of our prayers.

Rav Soloveitchik notes that we can see the greatness of Hashem in the inclusiveness of Shemoneh Esrei. Whatever minute trivial request a person may have, he is able to include it within the Shemoneh Esrei and Hashem will listen to him. Hashem, the Master of the universe, the King of kings, is ready and willing to help us with anything that ails us. Our Sages gave us the basic format of thirteen platforms of bakashot, but they left it open for us request anything.  We should approach prayer with the notion that any request is legitimate. There is no limit to what we can ask Hashem to do for us, whether tiny or gargantuan, whether to heal your little pinkie or to bring the Messiah. The only address is our Master and King, our loving Father, Hashem.





How Can I Remain Spiritually Uplifted?

9 06 2010

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com

Achieving Balance:  Class #12Question: I try to make all the mitzvot I perform more meaningful by being mindful to bring Hashem into my life with my heart and concentrating on feeling grateful to Him. But despite this, I usually find myself just going through the motions. The feeling of real closeness to Hashem happens only once in a while and I feel like I need to sense it more.  I have a non-observant sister who practices Eastern Healing.   She is able to get her spiritual high without the obligation of keeping Torah and mitzvot.  Why can’t I experience this same elation from davening and concentrating on brachot?

Answer:
I suspect your problem is that you don’t see the connection between the mitzvot and how they bring a Jew closer to Hashem. I suggest you study Horeb and Rav Hirsch’s commentary on the Torah. It may be difficult to learn because it was originally written in German and the English translation is somewhat stilted. Get through it anyway. He will show you how the connection works. Once you understand the mechanism, you’ll feel different.
The more you understand the workings of a mitzva and how Hashem’s wisdom is an intricate part of it, the easier it will be to develop that spiritual bond. He knows our souls and defined the mitzvot to create connection. If you can bring your mind into it, it will inform you more than you think.
Eastern healing does this inside out. There’s the external sensation of meaning without reality. People think they are connected but they really aren’t. You can have the feeling of tikun without actual tikun. On the other hand, you can have what really gives you tikun, not necessarily with the accompanying feeling, unless you work to understand it better.

The numerical value of Elokim is hateva, nature. Nature is from Hashem but Hashem is not nature, He’s far more. When you worship nature, which is the essence of Eastern religion, there are consequences. You make Hashem so small that there is no accounting, no World To Come, no direct link, and no prophecy. Embarking on that spiritual path will only lead you downhill. Concentrate on developing a deep understanding of the mitzvot and use that as a springboard to come closer to Hashem.