Title: Rav Chaim Kanievsky on Siddur
Complied by Rabbi Shai Graucher
Jewish prayer, tefillah, is rightly called avoda she’be’lev, a labor of the heart. Like any art, a person who wants to pray correctly needs at times to tweak one’s own prayer with new insights and techniques. In particular, Torah thoughts have the power to inform our prayers in powerful ways. Imagine, then, that the gadol hador of the last generation is praying beside you, and turns to you before tefillah begins to impart some ideas to help you pray with all your energy. That is how the book Rav Chaim Kanievsky on Siddur reads, and it will withstand the test of time to become a companion to the siddur.
This next thought may not age well, but my initial reaction to opening the sefer was shock at seeing the suffix zt”l tacked onto Rav Chaim’s name on the title page. A man whose life mission was the learning and spreading of Torah, he still seems to be among us when one can easily reach him through the various books he left. This volume fits neatly into the canon of Rav Chaim’s works being translated recently into English, including Orchos Yosher, Rav Chaim Kanievsky on Tehillim, Rav Chaim Kanievsky on the Parsha, and more.
Of all of these recent works, this commentary on the weekday siddur may have the greatest potential for practically changing your everyday life by infusing it with elevated levels of tznius, concern for those suffering, respect for parents and elders, Torah and Torah scholars, besides the practical advice to inform your prayers. Therefore, I have some unsolicited advice for how to best use this sefer: First, it can always be used for reference, so feel free to look up lines of tefillah or verses in Tehillim you want to clarify. An index would have assisted in the practicality of this. Second, for daily use, I would suggest one read a little bit from the “Shacharis” section for five minutes before davening Shacharis. Then, a little bit from the “Mincha” section (or “Brachos” or “Tefillah Concepts”) for five minutes before davening Mincha. Once you finish, you can go back and do it again. You may become glued to it, so make sure you close the book before davening.
Rabbi Shai Graucher, who compiled this masterpiece, regularly quotes stories and anecdotes from Rebbetzin Kanievsky and other family members to highlight Rav Chaim’s dedicated observance, colored by his vast knowledge of Torah. Aside from the Gemara, Yerushalmi, and Midrashim, Rav Chaim regularly quotes such varied sources as the Arizal, Chida, Rambam, the Zohar, Vilna Gaon, Rema MiFano, Shulchan Aruch, Mishnah Berurah, Aruch HaShulchan, Sefer Chassidim, Rav Yonasan Eibeschutz, the Chazon Ish (Rav Kanievsky’s uncle), and of course his father, the Steipler Gaon. These insights can be cross-referenced to the other Rav Chaim Kanievsky works for greater scope, like Rav Chaim Kanievsky on Tehillim.
The sefer provides practical advice about how to daven, inspirational stories about davening, and even various kavanos to consider when praying. For instance, Rav Chaim interprets the wording of the Shemoneh Esrei’s section on rebels as a blessing, not a curse. Their inability to find hope in their mistaken philosophies should bring them to the obvious alternative – the Torah’s truth. Elsewhere, Rav Chaim’s own words may explain why his own prayer was so effective: “One who is careful not to lie, all his blessings will be fulfilled, for just as he is careful not to utter any falsehoods, Heaven will guard him and make sure that everything he says will be fulfilled and come true.” Scholar and layperson can gain from this wonderful work, and we should all look forward to seeing the companion piece on the Shabbos and Yom Tov Siddur, which is bound to enhance our Shabbos and Yom Tov observance to the same degree as this work holds the key to enhancing our weekday.