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Prayer – What Is Missing? (Part One)


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Special Note: I feel very much encouraged by the overwhelming response of our readers regarding my recent columns relating to the ominous world situation that envelops us today. From day- to- day, or more correctly, from moment- to- moment, our predicament becomes more perilous. As I promised in my last column, I will get down to basics and begin outlining what we must do to convert darkness into light – tragedy into blessing. As always, everything that I say, write and teach is not a matter of opinion, but can be substantiated by our Torah – Hashem’s road map for life.

There is a four-step formula we must follow. Step one: “K’yemei tzescha m’Eretz Mitzrayim… As you went forth from Egypt, [so your final redemption shall be...].”

If we carefully examine that which led to our redemption from brutal Egyptian bondage, we will discover that they were the electrifying words: “And they cried out to Hashem, and their cry reached the Heavenly Throne…”

We have to learn how to daven, and this is not only a message for our secular brethren, but for all of us, myself included. But before I attempt to spell out what we should aim for in our davening, and how we might better express the feelings in our hearts through our words, I would like to share two letters with you, which I received from people who daven regularly, but are upset at the manner in which we conduct ourselves and our prayers in our synagogues. I am always pleased when people write in to call attention to that which they find wrong in our Jewish community so that we may improve and elevate ourselves. As King Solomon taught: “Reprove a fool and he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”

So let us begin with our two letter writers, and in my next column, B’Ezrat Hashem, I will share some teachings regarding prayer that I hope will help us to open those Heavenly Gates.

Prayer – Two Letters

Letter # 1

Dearest Rebbetzin Jungreis:

In light of all the tragedies in India this past week and everything that has befallen us that you so vividly described in your columns, I think the issue of prayer must be addressed for sadly that is an area in which we are lacking.

There have been many times that my husband has come home from shul saying that the people were very upset because the Ba’al Tefillah davened very slowly. This past week, my 14-year-old son came home and said that the congregants were upset because the Rabbi finished Shemoneh Esrei before the Ba’al Mussaf and had to wait for him to begin Chazaras HaShatz.

Yes, I know that there is an inyan of tircha b’tzibur (not to burden the congregation), but how far does that go? Why should it be considered a tirchah to wait a few minutes for someone who is davening with so much kavannah? Why is everyone in such a rush to finish davening and get out of shul as quickly as possible?

As far as I am concerned it is a tirchah for me when I have to rush my davening in order to keep up with those who regard prayer as “speed-reading”! I’d like to keep up with the congregation when they’re saying Kedushah (the repetition of the Amidah service which can only be said in unison with the congregation). I’d like to answer “Amen” to Kaddish, and as we all know, there are many tefillos that should be said in unison of which Birchas HaChodesh and Hallel are just two examples.

But everyone is in a mad rush even on those occasions when these prayers are recited. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur davening presents yet another problem. During those days we really should be focusing on our prayers, but even then, it’s like a race to keep up and I have heard many people boast of which synagogue finishes first as if that is an achievement! I can give many additional examples, but I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at.

So, shouldn’t we all take a little more time to daven with greater kavannah, to say each and every word with feeling? I’m not, G-d forbid, saying that those people who daven quickly don’t have kavannah, but I can’t see how they can really concentrate when they are speeding along like they are on a treadmill.

With what’s going on today, with terrorist attacks around the world, the economic situation, the matzav in Eretz Yisrael, illnesses, accidents, etc. we need to daven to Hashem with all our hearts and souls. Let’s take a little more time. That’s the very least we can and must do. We are living in the period that is referred to as the footsteps of Moshiach…at this time our prayers are really critical. Let’s show we really want Moshiach to come and end this Galus.

Tefillah is important, as are chesed and tzedakah. I think we all need to take a long hard look in the mirror, examine our manner of prayer and make the necessary changes.

Thank you, May you continue your wonderful work for many years to come. If you print this letter, please leave out my name.

Letter #2

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I am what you would call a ba’alas teshuvah, someone who discovered Judaism late in life, and I must confess that you were in great measure responsible for the awakening of my soul. One of my close friends attended your Torah classes regularly and kept pressuring me to join her. For the longest time, I refused, telling her that religion was not my thing, but Thank G-d, she was relentless and never let go. One Chanukah she gave me your book and that opened my heart. So, I agreed to go to a class just once.

Well, that “once” changed my life forever, and I started to attend your classes regularly. I also met my husband at one of your Hineni sessions, but all that was many moons ago. Today, we are the happy parents of three adorable children with a fourth, B’Ezrat Hashem, on the way. We no longer live in Manhattan. Frankly, we can’t afford Manhattan rent and the cost of living in the city.

Certain things that you taught us in class never left me, and one of them was the importance of prayer. I try to go to shul every Shabbos morning. Obviously, I can’t get there at the beginning of the service, but I do arrive earlier than most of the women. However, before I can recite even the most important prayers (I can’t say the entire service since I do come late because of the children). I consulted our rabbi and he indicated which of the prayers are the most essential, so I try to concentrate on them, but even with that limited amount of prayer, I never keep up with the congregation or finish when they do.

The other women say whatever the congregation is saying when they arrive and never even attempt to recite the prayers that they missed. I think that one of the reasons for that may be that they don’t want to miss the Kiddush and social hour following the services.

Many times it occurred to me that I would be better off not going to shul, and davening quietly at home. But then I feel conflicted, because there are certain prayers than can only be recited in the presence of a minyan.

But I ask you Rebbetzin, in this terribly dangerous time, shouldn’t we daven with more feeling, emotion, and heart? Should we not take care to pronounce each and every word and concentrate on their meaning rather than gobble up the words and rush through everything so that we might get to the Kiddush quickly?

I feel as though I am a lone voice whistling in the wind. But I thought that if anyone could address this problem, it is you…. and may I mention one more troubling problem?

My husband who davens with a minyan every day told me that many of the men leave their cell phones on during the davening. Now, how can they do that? You would imagine that when they enter a shul, even though it is on a weekday, they would automatically turn off their cell phones That’s the very least they could do to show proper respect.

I might also add that I tried attending the “Beginner’s Service,” not only at my local shul, but in Manhattan as well, and I found these services totally uninspiring. It was more like attending a Hebrew school class than experiencing heartfelt prayer, which, I feel, prayer should be.

So please, do publish my letter and perhaps some of our people will re-think today’s davening process.

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