Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The following question is a non-starter: “Please list the differences between the way Judaism teaches us to pray and the way other religions do.” Obviously, the list will be so long that all the papers and pens in the world will not do justice to the topic, as there is practically nothing in common between prayer in Judaism and other religions.

Every aspect of our prayers has ancient sources, passed down from Chazal with extreme accuracy, and is deeply rooted in the Torah, the “instruction manual” that Hashem gave us. How else can a frail human being know how to communicate with his Great, Holy, and incorporeal Creator? Indeed, one who studies our prayers sees how every section and word contains unbelievable wisdom and meaning. The differences between us and the other religions are so vast, and this is certainly not the place to discuss them.

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One example of the differences is the “moment of silence,” an act of worship prevalent in many churches. (Of course I have never been in a church, and it is also forbidden to enter one, as stated in Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah Vol. III, siman 129:6, my information comes from reliable sources.)

You won’t find such a practice in any Orthodox synagogue. Whether it is a sefardi shul with enchanting makams, a Chassidic shteibel with fire and passion, or an Ashkenaz minyan with beautiful tunes and heartfelt tefillos – serving through silence just does not exist! Yes, we recite the “silent” Shemoneh Esrei, but it is not really silent at all. According to the halacha (see O.C. 101:2 and Biur Halacha), one who says Shemoneh Esrei “in his heart” without moving his lips has not fulfilled his obligation. Rather, he must say the words in a quiet voice, just loud enough that he can hear himself. The Shemoneh Esrei of the individual is only considered silent relative to the recital done by the chazzan, which is said out loud.

Why is it so important to actually say the words? Perhaps we can answer the question based on what has been mentioned many times in this series, that when we pray, we are speaking to Hashem and having a real conversation. True, we “know” logically that He perceives our thoughts, but we have to actually “feel” it emotionally. When we express the words with our lips we make it real to ourselves that we are standing in front of the Master of the Universe and talking to Him.

 

Out Loud

Not only must we recite the words with our lips, every other part of the tefillah should specifically be said out loud. Let us cite several reasons for this.

The first is found in the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. siman 61:4) which states that the reason we recite the first verse of Krias Shema in a loud voice is that when we say something out loud it helps us say it with more concentration. The Mishneh Brurah (O.C. siman 643:5) cites the Shelah who says that all blessings should be said out loud for the same reason.

In addition to helping us say the words with more feeling, we will say them better. When we recite a blessing quietly, many times the words are inadvertently slurred or skipped. Saying it out loud helps avoid that problem.

However, there is an even more important reason. In this week and last week’s parsha, the Torah relates that Hashem brought Mitzrayim, the world’s most powerful country, to its knees. Its entire infrastructure and economy was completely destroyed through plague after plague. And then, in this week’s sidra, Parshas Bo, we witness the grand finale – the death of the firstborn! No house was spared and the tremendous wailing that resulted was unparalleled in history. With this, Pharaoh set us free!

In the midst of describing this momentous and dramatic event, the Torah discusses various mitzvos that were given in order to help us remember that Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim. And the Ramban (at the end of the parsha) explains that the point of the miracles that occurred during the exodus was to teach us the tenets of our faith: that there is a Creator running the world, Who rewards those who fulfill His Will and punish those who transgress His commandments. Lest we forget these lessons, He gave us mitzvos such as mezuzah and tefillin to serve as constant reminders.

 

We Are His Creations!

The Ramban concludes: “This is the point of all the mitzvos – that we should put our faith in our G-d and admit that He created us, as this is the purpose of the creation and that is all that Hashem wants from man.” And then he writes: “And this why we raise our voices when we pray and why we gather together to pray in the Bais Haknesses, and why the tefillos of the tzibur have more merit – so that there will be a place where we can gather together and thank our Creator and say in front of Him: ‘We are Your creations!’”

We see from here that when we come to daven in shul it is not merely because we want our tefillos to have the extra merit of praying with the tzibur. It is also because we want to publicly proclaim to ourselves, our children, and the entire world: “There is a Creator!” Silence is golden – but not when we are expressing prayers to Hashem. And that is why we must raise our voices when we pray.

This is not only relevant to men. When a woman prays in the privacy of her home, she also should say the words out loud. She is not praying clandestinely in a cellar, hoping the KGB won’t catch her and send her to Siberia! And all the more so, if there are children at home. Let them hear and learn from a young age that there is Someone to whom we can always turn and pour out our hearts.

When we come to shul, we should not feel that it is a public library where only whispering is allowed. Say the tefillah loud – but not too loud. The Mishneh Brurah (OC 101:7) writes that one should not daven so loud that it appears that you think that Hashem won’t hear otherwise. Rather, we should pray as stated in the Midrash (Shir Hashirim Zuta chapter 2): “Hashm’ini es ko’leichlet me hear your voice – when you pray, do it in a raised voice. Ki kolech areivfor your voice is sweet – when you pray.” (And it goes without saying that we should make sure our davening does not disturb the concentration of the ones seated near us.)

Indeed, Abba Binyomin says in Brachos (6a), “A man’s prayers are only heard in the Bais Haknesses, as it says, ‘to hear the song and the prayer’ – the prayer is to be recited where there is song.” Rashi explains that the reason why a shul is called a place of song because it is the place where the tzibur gathers together to say songs and praises in a beautiful sweet voice. This is the uniqueness of a shul; a place to raise our voices in prayer – in a pleasant and beautiful way.

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Rabbi Niehaus, who originates from Los Angeles, is the Rosh Kollel of the Zichron Aharon Yaakov night kollel in Kiryat Sefer, a rebbi in Yeshivas Tiferes Yisroel in Yerushalayim, and the author of the just released “Oasis: Experience the Paradise of Shabbos” by Mosaica Press. He can be contacted at kollel.zay@gmail.com.