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29 Adar II 5760 - April 5, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Enjoying Tefillah

by HaRav Yehoshua Shklar

Why do we find so many people who are unmindful about the way they daven to Hashem, even though everyone agrees that tefillah is of the utmost importance? Maran the mashgiach, HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l, (Likutei Yechezkel, pg. 77), answers this puzzling question:

"We do not hold tefillah in high regard because we neither realize nor understand the essence of tefillah."

The Mashgiach offers two helpful pieces of advice for us so we can realize and understand this concept:

1) We must thoroughly believe that without tefillah we cannot, simply cannot, have any yiras Shomayim. "When one thinks deeply about what we have previously explained [in that article], that tefillah increases yiras Shomayim, our indifference towards it disappears. We understand that yiras Shomayim is of supreme significance and therefore anything intensifying it cannot possibly be disregarded."

2) "Taste and see that Hashem is good" (Tehillim 34:9). "When a person has experienced the `taste' of tefillah, his tefillah will be acceptable [before Hashem]." A man acquires this "taste" after strengthening within himself the fundamental concepts of emunah and simcha. "Obviously he must first understand and listen carefully to what he says during tefillah. Without this fundamental knowledge, and concentrating on what he is saying, he is not engaging in tefillah at all."

The real pleasure experienced in tefillah is the feeling of standing before HaKodosh Boruch Hu and speaking directly to Him. "With only a bit of reflection and attention a person can implant within his heart the consciousness that he is actually conversing with Hashem . . . is imploring Him for his needs . . . and Hashem is listening mindfully to him" (Mesillas Yeshorim, ch. 19).

When, in even one really proper and successful tefillah, a person senses this enjoyment, that marvelous feeling prompts him to feel the same way in all his tefillos. An awareness that "all will be satisfied and delighted with Your goodness" (Shemoneh Esrei, Shacharis of Shabbos) totally envelopes him. This sense of Hashem's "goodness" will persist both when studying Torah and when engaging in tefillah.

We see that ruchniyus is just the opposite of gashmiyus: After being satiated with material matters one no longer delights in them, but in spiritual matters, after being satisfied with ruchniyus one feels even more delight, and this delight generates additional satiation that in turn brings more -- essentially endless -- delight.

We must pass on this wonderful feeling of true tefillah to our children and to all our talmidim, who are like our children. We should establish regular shiurim to explain the inner meaning of tefillah and depict how the tefillah of the past and contemporary gedolei Torah and tzaddikim looks.

Some examples of how to perceive deeper and more heart- stirring meanings of tefillah are presented by HaRav E. E. Dessler (Michtav MeEliahu I, pg. 256):

" `Who supports those who fall' -- Hashem supports all those who fall (not only those who fell once, but even those who continually fall). Hashem with His abundant mercy supports even someone who is entrenched in tumah and is still falling. How fortunate is it for such a person to have virtuous hirhurim! HaKodosh Boruch Hu will cure him of his soul's fatal disease and release him from the ropes the yetzer has used to secure him. He will once again be able to stand up and regain his previous standing."

This excerpt shows how essential it is to hear what we are uttering with our lips during tefillah. Each section in our tefillah has within it a feeling of delight for the fortunate person who "tastes" it.

HaRav Dessler writes in a letter of encouragement to a yeshiva student: "You should primarily strive to make your tefillah more sublime . . . to portray as it would be in real life how HaKodosh Boruch Hu hears what our lips utter and listens to our heart's musing."

We began this article by presenting two principles from the teaching of Maran the Mashgiach HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l about how to reinforce our tefillah: 1) The profound awareness that without tefillah a person lacks yiras Shomayim. 2) Our duty to feel the "taste" of tefillah.

I would like to make more tangible the uniqueness of these two factors with regard to the tefillah of our children and talmidim. It is undoubtedly disturbing sometimes to see the tefillah of our children, even those already of bar mitzvah age. Many times parents and teachers are dismayed when they see how their children and students disregard their tefillah. This disrespect is noticeable in their talking in the middle of davening and sometimes even in the middle of saying Krias Shema. They can run through an entire Shemoneh Esrei in mere seconds.

We rationalize our noninterference by saying that it is impossible to change reality, and when the children mature and are in yeshiva ketana they will certainly daven better. Justifying this inactivity is a definite pitfall; it is a grave mistake. Children become accustomed to davening in an irreverent manner. Unfortunately, davening this way becomes second nature to them. Staff members of yeshivos ketanos have told me that they have particular difficulty in imparting a "taste" of tefillah to their talmidim who never experienced beforehand such a "taste." These hapless boys must begin their avodas Hashem from the very beginning.

At a meeting in Yerushalayim dedicated to Torah chinuch a comprehensive discourse written by Mori VeRabbi HaRav Shlomo Wolbe was distributed. In this discourse HaRav Wolbe cries out from the depths of his heart about the shocking problem of young boys dropping out of yeshivos. A secular organization called Hillel exists, whose aim is to detect boys who have been unsuccessful in their studies and who have never learned what yiras Shomayim is. With all sorts of tactics they remove these children from Torah institutions where their parents wanted them to study and enroll them in secular schools.

HaRav Wolbe implores us to seriously intensify our attempts to show our children and students the importance of tefillah to HaKodosh Boruch Hu. Without yiras Shomayim children wander away from Torah and become lost.

HaRav Wolbe presents several vital guidelines for parents. First of all, parents must set a personal example, as role models for the children, for example by saying bircas hamozone out loud. Children and infants notice what is happening around them. If the father davens out loud and with kavono, the child asks: "To whom are you praying?" The father answers: "I am speaking to the One Who created us, HaKodosh Boruch Hu."

We must explain things to the child calmly and pick our words with careful thought: we explain that if you do not ask your parents for what you need they will not give it to you, and the same is true with tefillah. If you request something from Hashem He will give it to you, but if you do not request it, He will not give it to you. "The will of those who fear Him, He does, and their cry He hears, and saves them" (Tehillim 145:18). Hashem will save them only if they cry out to Him.

We should occasionally find some interesting chiddush in tefillah and repeat it to our children during mealtime, and especially during the Shabbos meals, just as we say chidushei Torah to them at these special times. In many homes it is customary to study hilchos loshon hora for a few minutes each day. I suggest doing the same for tefillah: to explain some sections of tefillah. Each day we should explain another section, so that the children will picture the tefillah as something belonging to them. They will want to daven before HaKodosh Boruch Hu and feel the enjoyment of a real tefillah.

I would like to emphasize another important point. In the past children would sit next to the fathers when they daven and would receive direct and indirect guidance from their fathers about how tefillah should look. This they would do not only on Shabbos but also during the week. It is disturbing that today we see this has changed, and the change is especially noticeable on the weekdays. Even when the father and son are in the same shul the children do not sit anywhere near their father and are, naturally, not positively influenced by him. Instead the child roams around with his friends outside the shul.

How pitiful it is that during the entire week the father does not utilize his power of influence to teach his children how precious tefillah is. Those children who sit near their fathers during the tefillah possess a superior level of yiras Shomayim, since they daven better.

Let us conclude this article with what Maran HaRav Elchonon Wassermann zt'l Hy'd wrote in one of his discourses about a posuk at the end of Koheles (12:13): "The end of the matter when all is said and done: Fear Elokim and keep His mitzvos, for that is all of man." "That is all of man" can also mean "all of mankind" -- every man, both the biggest and the smallest. If one does not fear Elokim, if he lacks yiras Shomayim, he is not a man at all.

R' Elchonon cites the Zohar that before HaKodosh Boruch Hu created man, He asked advice from all the animals in the world and only afterwards He created him. This means that man is made up of attributes that can be found in all of the different types of animals. A man comprises an entire "zoo" of all of the world's animals. What is the chain protecting that enormous zoo? Only a person's yiras Shomayim can protect it. Without this he is only the biggest animal in the world since he was created from characteristics of all animals.

That chain of yiras Shomayim restrains people during this terrible period where lust assaults us from every side and a flood of permissiveness engulfs us. People tell us that when Maran the Chazon Ish zt'l was asked what boy a person should look for to make their daughter's shidduch, he would answer: "First you must see how he davens; according to his tefillah you can see his degree of yiras Shomayim."

May Hashem help us to daven before Him with true love and yirah, and may the posuk (Tehillim 69:14) "As for me, may my prayer to You, Hashem, be at an opportune time" be fulfilled in its entirety.

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