When Yoni and Baruch each decided to open a textile store in their respective cities, they did everything together. They spoke to the same consultants, rented the same type of store and even flew to China together. Yes, they started the same way, but that did not last too long. Yoni’s business began to flourish while Baruch barely covered his costs. One day, Baruch called Yoni and asked: “I don’t understand why my business is not as successful as yours – aren’t our stores exactly the same? Each day I take stock of what textiles I have and I know exactly where everything is. When people come into the store I watch as they look around, but they usually walk out empty-handed. What am I doing wrong?”
Yoni sighed and answered: “Baruch, it is not enough to remain with what you have – you must constantly work on making your business grow. That means seeking ways to draw customers through advertising and the like. When someone enters the store, greet him with a smile and be as helpful as possible. If you are not up to date with the newest styles, no one will buy your products! How do you expect to make any money the way you are going?”
That aforementioned parable was said by the famed Alter of Kelm and he concluded: What is the difference between these two businesses? Baruch’s store is dead – Yoni’s is alive! A live store is one that grows and the stock is constantly changing. As the old items are bought, new wares arrive. A dead store stays exactly the way it was when it opened.
The same is true regarding tefillah, says the Alter: Two people daven every day and say all the words, but the first one merely translates them in his mind from Hebrew to English. He knows that the tefillah has different sections, such as birchos hashachar, p’sukei d’zimra and Shemoneh Esrei, but he doesn’t understand what each part is supposed to accomplish. Even though he will be greatly rewarded for his efforts, he could be doing much more. His tefillah is barely alive and will look exactly the same way twenty years from now – unless he does something to change it.
The second person actually thinks about what he is saying and understands how each stage of the tefillah brings him closer to standing in front of the King of all Kings. With just a little contemplation, he adds feeling and life. Each time he prays he is overcome with new emotions which lead him to newer and deeper insights of how Hashem is present in his daily life. He grows from day to day – his tefillah is ALIVE!!
But how can we pump fresh blood into our tefillah if we say the exact same words day in and day out?
Same Words – Different Meaning
The first step is to realize that tefillah is not a recital of holy words – it is a conversation with Hashem. If you are speaking to someone, even if you say the same thing on many different occasions, as long as you say it with feeling, it means a lot. For example, even if a husband tells his wife every week, “The challah is really delicious!” she feels good. They are the same words every Shabbos – but since he means it, it is fine. And when two people have a certain relationship, the same words can mean something different each time, based on the various factors and events of their lives.
But it goes even further. Rav Wolbe writes that tefillah can be compared to a person on a train who is looking out the window at a magnificent mountain. Even though he is staring the entire time at the same mountain, since the train is constantly moving, his perception of it keeps changing. The words of the tefillah may be the same, but we see them each day from a different viewpoint, based on our spiritual growth and our new experiences. Knowing this should help us view each tefillah as new!
Bring the Words to Life!
The next step is to actually bring the words to life. One of the reasons people have trouble saying p’sukei d’zimrah with enthusiasm is that they feel they are just repeating over and over that Hashem is great. But the truth is, says Rav Shimshon Pinkus, with a little thought and imagination we will see that each sentence is an entirely different world. And he gives the following example:
When we say, “Hallelukah! Hallelu es Hashem min hashamayim – Praise Hashem from the heavens,” let us picture a stunning bright blue sky praising Hashem. “Praise Him in the heights” – leave the blue skies and shoot up even higher to outer space. “Praise Him all His angels” – now we are watching the multitudes of holy angels singing His glory! “Praise Him all His legions!” We soar to the myriads of holy creatures mentioned in Sefer Yechezkel. Then we go to the massive bright sun and picture it praising Hashem. When we mention the moon, think about a beautiful glowing full moon praising Hashem.
Now let’s put ourselves in the picture, continues Rav Pincus. We say in the beginning of p’sukei d’zimra: “Hodu l’Hashem – give thanks to Hashem!” Stop for a moment and think – thank you Hashem for my eyes, my ears, my life, my parnasah – the list is endless. “Kiru b’shmo – declare His name.” I am not thanking anymore – I am publicizing His greatness. Imagine yourself on the top of the Empire State Building with a huge loud speaker as you announce to the entire Manhattan: “Everyone should know about Hashem!”
“Make His acts known among the peoples” – I am now traveling around the world, to London, Moscow, India, and China, and teaching them about the greatness of Hashem and what He does – they have never heard this before! “Shiru lo – zamru lo.” I come home and begin a new activity – I sing to Him and make music to Him! “Sichu b’chol nifliosav” – I stop singing and just simply say to the person sitting next to me: “Did you hear about these wonders?” “Hishallelu b’sheim kadsho” – I am proud to have Hashem as my G-d. “Do you know who did these wonders? My Daddy. Yes, really! My Father – He is the One! And He promised me that His doors are always open for me and He listens to me.”
This way of davening may seem foreign to us and difficult to fully implement. However, may I suggest that each week we take one part of pesukei d’zimrah and really understand the meaning of the various parts. Then try saying it as above, with feeling and life. Once we have “gotten the knack of it,” we can go on to the next part. In the beginning it may take more time to daven, but as we get used to it, we will be able to say the words at a normal pace.
This is just one example of how to turn our tefillah into a live business. Every bit of effort is worth millions – as nothing can be compared to the feeling of being close to Hashem. Once we learn how to transform our tefillah into a live conversation with Him, we will savor every moment and discover that davening is an experience that we certainly will not want to miss!