Photo Credit: Jewish Press

On the top of a hill stands an ancient palace. This imposing structure has eighteen floors and sprawls across several acres. Magnificent paintings and royal curtains adorn the walls and dazzling chandeliers hang from the ceilings. Majestic arches, staircases, and balconies can be found around the building. Its countless chambers contain fabulous treasures from around the world – including precious jewels and golden ornaments. It is said that a person would have to live a hundred years to discover all its secrets.

So who owns the palace, you ask? Well, that is the sad part of this story. This estate has been passed down from father to son for hundreds of years and is now owned by a foolish man. You see, he lives in one of its deep dungeons and has never bothered to go up and see the actual palace itself. Never has he gazed at his astounding wealth, nor has he received any pleasure from it. Is there anyone more foolish then he?


This is how Rav Ury Weisbloom (Mashgiach of Yeshivas Nachlas Leviim in Haifa) in the preface of his sefer Ha’aras Hatefillah describes our situation. Chazal tell us (Brachos 6b) that tefillah stands at the top of the spiritual world, but people disrespect it. The Anshei K’neses Hagedolah established the tefillah of Shemoneh Esrei and filled it with myriads of treasures. Nevertheless, for most of us it remains a closed book. Are we that different from the owner of the palace?

One who looks at the seder hatefillah, the order of davening, will see a grandiose structure, designed and built with precise planning and organization. One first enters the garden of birchos hashachar – the morning blessings. After passing through the garden, one reaches the courtyard of p’sukei d’zimrah – verses of praise. One next comes to the plaza of birchos kri’as Shema – the blessings of kr’yas Shema. Each one of these places is filled with beauty and wealth. Once one has traversed all of them, one finally reaches the awesome doorway of the palace itself, and he can now explore all of its eighteen floors – the brachos of Shemoneh Esrei.

Each floor contains magnificent treasures that are not found on any other floor. Every level is set up in a perfect order and one leads to the next. One who looks at this structure must conclude that no human being could have built it alone. Indeed, the Gemara tells us that the Anshei K’neses Hagedolah consisted of the greatest scholars of that generation, including many prophets. Every word contains so many different meanings, and all of them are true. Each person, in every generation, will find himself and his situation in Shemoneh Esrei.

This has been passed down to us from our forefathers, and it is ours! We are the proud inheritors of this magnificent structure, but unfortunately many of us do not value it properly. If we would only realize the splendor of each word, tefillah would change from a burden into a delight! We have so much to gain every time we daven – all it takes is a little effort.

This is the point of this new series. Just as we discovered a deeper meaning of Shabbos, we will now enter the palace of tefillah and b’ezras Hashem learn how to really enjoy davening. And the more we learn, the more we will receive the amazing presents and wealth that are waiting for us – not only in the next world, but today.


Meeting The King

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah perek 1) writes that originally each person would daven using his own words. But once we went into galus and were forced to live amongst the nations of the world and had children in these foreign countries, we began speaking a mixture of many different languages. Eventually, our children lost the ability to speak Lashon HaKodesh in a proper manner, and their tefillos lacked clarity. Thus, Chazal established one uniform tefillah for everyone to say. Now, all of Klal Yisroel were able to daven in a beautiful and unblemished manner.

Even though the Rambam does not explain why it was so important that the words of the tefillah be perfect, the reason is obvious. We know that a person who has an appointment with the king prepares for months. He thinks carefully about what he will ask for, how to ask it and how to present himself. This is because if he says just one thing wrong, it is all over: If he is lucky he will only be thrown out of the palace and not have to pay for it with his life. But it is well worth the risk. If he utilizes the opportunity properly, he will gain immensely. First, the fact that the king will be listening to him and interested in what he has to say is in itself an amazing honor! Even more, perhaps the king may also fulfill his request, if it is in everyone’s best interest.

If this is the case with a human king, imagine how much more it means when we come to meet Hashem, the Master of the Universe and the King of all kings! When we daven, we are actually having a meeting with Hashem, our Creator and Benefactor! The Mesilas Yeshorim (perek 19) describes vividly what happens when a person davens: “He is actually standing in front of the Creator and is having a discussion with Him, even though the human eye cannot see Him… but with a little thought and contemplation a person can make this real to himself: that he is actually talking to Him, and in front of Him he is pleading, and from Him he is requesting, and He, the Blessed One, is listening and paying attention to his words, just as it is when a man speaks to his friend, and his friend listens to him.” This is an amazing and powerful description of what takes place each time we stand in Shemoneh Esrei.

Now it is clear why we need the siddur. In order to ensure that we will speak properly to the King and at the same time gain the most from this special meeting, we need a complex and intricate composition. Only Chazal, with their heavenly inspiration, were able to establish this nusach hatefillah. Each word was chosen carefully and contains tremendous power, but we need to connect to the tefillah and not treat it disrespectfully.

Let us begin our journey through the palace of davening. Each month, we will attempt to learn about a different aspect of this important meeting and how to gain the most from it. As a first step, let us take a moment before we daven each day to remember that the words we are about to say have a lot built into them. And it is only with these words that we are able to go to our “Meeting with Hashem”!

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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 [email protected].