Like most Modern Orthodox kids, I grew up regarding davening in shul as a chore. Between the occasional cantor who would wail and bail during the High Holidays or the long speeches I could barely stay awake for – let alone relate to – let’s just say I never found shul to be exciting.
As I grew older, I, like most of my friends, came to shul to daven the obligatory prayers (you guys know which ones), and then, once I was finished with the Amidah, I would find someone to shmooze with. At the time, I had no idea that what I was doing was not only wrong, but harmful to me in ways I didn’t even fathom. What’s worse, I would get upset with the “shushers” who were simply trying to help me.
How and why did I change? For the same reason most of us do. A life-changing event. My family endured many health issues, and I needed help.
When things get bad, most people see their father, mother, doctor, rabbi, best friend, or therapist. Yet there is one Being who encapsulates all those things – and a whole lot more. When you’re worried, scared, or upset, no one can possibly fully appreciate your innermost feelings more than the G-d who fashioned your being, nature, and distinct uniqueness. Only your Creator can truly appreciate and understand you and know what makes you tick.
And so, after all the doctor visits, I had to face the fact that the only doctor who could come to my rescue was the rofeh cholei Yisrael. The only way to maintain financial stability and more was G-d’s blessing. The only answer to all my prayers was Hashem Yisbarach.
And so entering shul one day, I realized that I really needed to do everything on my end to be in G-d’s good graces. And then it hit me. If I were on a job interview, I would never interrupt the interview by taking a call from someone. Yet, that’s precisely what I had been doing for years without realizing it.
Can you imagine saying, “Lord, holy father in heaven, may you please bless me with parnasah and health and – hey, Dave what’s going on? Did you see the game last night? – Oops, where was I? Oh, yes, holy father, in the name of Avraham, Yitzchak, and – hey, did you see that new DeNiro film…?”
I began to feel like the biggest fool. How could I have thought that my behavior was acceptable or that my prayers were going to be accepted? There I was begging G-d to help me while simultaneously shooting myself in the foot.
And then I started doing research, and discovered that the Ahavas Chaim says when we talk in shul, we disconnect from Hashem. The Mishna Berurah says we can’t even say Tehillim or learn Torah during chazarat hashatz. And if that is forbidden, how much more so is talking about frivolous matters.
Hashem wants to shower us with berachos, but we must be quiet to receive them. He’s not nearly as concerned with us pronouncing every word perfectly as He is with us speaking to Him with the proper respect and attention that His presence demands. Imagine the trepidation you would feel when entering the Oval Office to meet your favorite president. Now multiply that by a million – because the president is only as powerful as G-d permits him to be.
Our main objective during davening should be to connect with G-d, not our neighbors (that’s what Kiddushes are for). Today, if you don’t like long-drawn out davening, there are other options; you can go to a hashkama minyan or a shul that daven faster. And if you happen to be stuck in a situation where you need to talk or take a breather, there is no sin in taking a five-minute break.
We need to remind ourselves when we cross the threshold in shul that we are about to possess the powerful opportunity to beseech G-d for whatever we need: health, good children, shalom bayis, a good shidduch, a great shidduch, great parnasah, a good Pesach ketchup, a mother-in-law who doesn’t raise your blood pressure, etc. Folks, we’ve got a lot to pray and be thankful for.
Hashem will shower us with unmitigated berachos, but we need to let Him – by remaining silent in shul.