Saturday, August 06, 2011

My "Demands"

The headline of the ad on the back page of Hamodia Magazine read: Gedolim and Rabbonim Demand: Turn off your cell phones before davening.
The first vision that entered my mind was of visiting my grandparents when I was a child and accompanying my grandfather to shul. If someone spoke during Krias HaTorah  the Rov would walk up to the bimah bang his hand loudly and shout at those who were speaking to quiet down. I can picture him standing there, his facing burning with righteous indignation, his large round eyes giving a piercingly angry look at the transgressors. I was certainly terrified to speak there.
But as my thoughts turned to the present and the issue at hand I realized that what troubled me was: Why is the ad focusing on a symptom instead of worrying about the core issue?
I would encourage you to read the introductory section to Rav Kook's Olas R'Iyah on Tefillah. See how he poetically describes over and over again that Tefillah, being an Avodah She'Ba'Lev, is meant to be an expression of one's pining desire for a relationship with Hashem. As we awake in the morning we are wanting to connect to Him before we go out into the world and engage in our mundane pursuits. As we conclude our workday and are returning home, we desperately desire to reconnect with Hashem to share with Him all the emotions and struggles that we contended with during the day. As we are about to go to sleep we once again want to take leave of Him before we lay down to sleep. If people would come to shul desperately wanting to utilize the time to enhance their relationship with Hashem would they be taking out their cell phones in the middle of davening?!
Imagine a husband and wife who love each other who have had to be apart for a period of time. Finally, they are able to arrange to spend a weekend in a hotel together. Will anyone need to demand of them to hang the do-not-disturb sign on their door?
But when davening is a Halachic obligation that one must fulfill, or one is davening out of a sense of needing to do it in order to get what he or she wants, and one is lacking that thirst to connect to Hashem, is there any wonder that the result is people speaking on their cell phones? There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way Tefillah is being taught to children as well as to adults. Here are my "demands" to that end:

  • I "demand" that children not be taught to daven until they are old enough to understand what they are saying. (By the way, this is what Chazal teach as well.)
  • I "demand" that the emphasis on Tefillah education be moved from a Halachic based model to one that emphasizes and models the meaning of Avodah She'Ba'Lev. Even teaching the meaning of the words of davening, vital as that is, needs to be subordinated to the very foundation of Tefillah itself.
  • I "demand" that the concept of Tov me'at b'kavanah, that it is better to cover less ground in the siddur and to do so with a real connection to Hashem, rather than getting through the prescribed daily Tefillah but lacking any relationship with Hashem, be emphasized in all schools and shuls.
As one of the first steps for the Exodus from Egypt, the Torah says that the King of Mitzryaim died and the Children of Israel sighed from the work and they cried out to Hashem. Mitzrayim  is frequently understood to be a metaphor for being in a constricted place. It is only when we remove the constrictions that bind us, when we let out a sigh of relief from the freedom of seeing Tefillah as work, as a chore that must be done, rather than as something we are chalishing  to do, that we will truly be able to cry out to Hashem and be free.


Gabriel Greenberg said...

Thanks for this post. I agree with you that Tov M'at b'kavanah should be taught more, especially to ba'alei teshuva at the beginning of their path as well as many folks trying to grow in their yiddishkeit.

Pinchos Woolstone said...

Common sense, healthy suggestions.