Tefilah Reimagined

By Michael Ribalt

Tefilah education is a topic that is very important to educators. Yet we often find that many of our students are lacking the proper Kavanah and approach to Tefilah that we as educators seek. One of the problems that we have is that if we analyze Tefilah well enough we can realize that the way we approach Tefilah education is not fully in sync with the original way it was constructed. Tefilah was constructed by our Chachamim (sages) with a national approach in mind, focusing on a level of Emunah and connection with Hashem as a group or KLAL. The goal was and is always for the Jewish nation to thrive and continue as a whole. The deep personal and individual connection with Hashem is missing from the original construct and therefore is expected to come from the individual.  If our students are only presented the words of the siddur and their meanings they are essentially only receiving part of the total package of our connection with Hashem through Tefilah.

Due to the limited space in this article I’m going to be giving a balcony view for this vast and complicated topic. I want to examine the importance of a student developing a personal relationship with Hashem by understanding three essential relationships with Tefilah. The three relationships of Tefilah include: one’s relationship with Klal Yisrael through Halakha, one’s personal relationship with Hashem, and one’s relationship with “self.”

When Anshey Knesset Hagedolah put together our Tefilah it was designed as a means of connection to Hashem for Bney Yisrael, whereby we express our Emunah on a national level. As our Tefilah was written in a plural form it was the best way to proclaim our strength and beliefs as a group in a unified expression. The national level of Emunah that Tefilah allows us to proclaim is the belief that Hashem is the one that created the world, the one who took us out of mitzrayim, and the one that gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai. Hashem is that dominant powerful force that gives us an opportunity to have an open personal structured relationship with him through Korbanot, Yamim Tovim, Shabbos and many other ways. Tefilah expresses how Hashem wants to have a relationship with us and not to be distant from us. Critical components of our Tefilah include a national Hakarat Hatov recognizing the universe by saying praises and blessings to Hashem. A Sanhedrin was even created to, amongst other things, to continue looking after the oral torah and our Tefilah as our society changed through the generations. The Halachot associated with Tefilah is very much connected on a national level whereby we as a group come together and say tefilot. The focus on a unified national connection that Tefilah has, in itself does not particularly focus on the individual’s connection to Tefilah. In essence the establishment of Tefilah was meant to be an opening but not a totality to our relationship with Hashem. Where does one work on their personal expression? How does one connect to the national level of Emunah if one lacks the ability to connect on an individual basis?

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