Before anyone can improve their Tefillos to be meaningful a heartfelt Tefillos with kavana, (at least most of the time), they need to know, and be clear about the following Yesodos in Hashkafa.
1- Obviously you must have strong emunah in Hashem, a very strong awareness of Hashem. (You can’t daven properly to a wall, it’s very boring.) If your Emunah is weak, it’s a true emergency to strengthen your emunah. You can contact me for a list of great English and Hebrew seforim on the topic of emunah.
2- You must have very strong general Torah hashkafa. What does this mean? You must be very clear in your hashkafa that we are in this world to come as close to Hashem as possible. (Tefilla will play a huge role with this endeavor.) We are in this world mainly to serve Hashem and to prepare for Olam Haba. That has to be our main focus in life. We are here to be Amul – Toil – Exert ourselves in our Avodas Hashem, through learning Torah, proper Tefilla, and doing Mitzvos. These concepts have to be – or become, our total essence. Our main focus has to be – I want to do all I can to be an Oved Hashem. (Basically, you must internalize the first perek of the Mesillas Yesharim as much as possible in order to be ready to exert the necessary effort needed to daven a proper Tefilla.)
3-You also must be very aware of some very basic Sefer Nefesh Hachaim / Kabalistic concepts. (I do not study kabala, but Nefesh Hachaim is a sefer that’s learned in many Yeshivos.) The concept I am referring to is the teaching of the amazing spiritual power of any ehrlicha Yid or Yiddina. We must be aware of the Gadlus HuAdom that our being a Tzelem Elokim makes us. If you go through the first Shaar of the Nefesh Hachaim, from the first perek through perek 14, you will learn the colossal powers which every Yid’s actions, words, and thoughts have. We are walking atom bombs. That spiritual energy can be used for good purposes, and for Chas V’Shalom bad purposes. (All the Sifrei Chasidus speak about this at length.) SO YES, LITTLE OLE ME, must stop being so humble and start realizing that MY WORDS OF TEFILLA can mamash greatly affect the entire upper spiritual worlds with great spiritual light, and that light boomerangs back down to affect our world as well in an enormous way! We have tremendous power with our words of Tefilla if we will just say them with sincerity and kavana.
4- Many of us feel unworthy and perhaps even embarrassed to talk to Hashem because of our many sins. This is a big problem, (nowadays especially), but we must realize that Hashem’s mercy is enormous and Hashem is ready to listen even to sinners if they are ready to daven sincerely to Him. This is because we can’t imagine Hashem’s great love for us. Hashem loves us as a father and just as any father would gladly and eagerly listen to their child even though the child had rebelled, so too will Hashem.
5 – Most of us lack the time and patience needed for proper Tefilla (which is often because we also lack in our Bitachon). If you really want to daven better you will need to be ready for your improved tefillos to take more of your time. This is a sacrifice you will probably be happy to make once you start enjoying the wonderful experience of “connecting to Hashem” during Tefilla.
6 – Many of us have already despaired from being able to concentrate properly during Tefilla. This is mainly from a lack of understanding the real purpose of Tefilla, which leads to a lack of enough effort being exerted into our Tefillos. Even those who have exerted some sincere effort in the past, but without success, have also given up on Tefilla to a great extent. Knowing why we daven will definitely change that.
7 – Many of us have davened for a specific thing(s) for a while without seeing results, thereby leading to giving up on Tefilla altogether. Understanding the real purpose of Tefilla will get you back onto the track of Tefilla.
SO, WHAT’S LEFT? Robotic, mechanical Tefilla. We just daven to be yotzeh our halachic obligation, So, the quicker we daven, the better. (This is NOT davening lehalacha, in fact it’s a serious lack of derech eretz towards Hashem, Chas V’Shalom.)
8- SO WHAT IS TEFILLA REALLY ABOUT???
TEFILLA IS NOT ABOUT GETTING WHAT I WANT!
Tefilla IS mainly for the following reasons. 1- First and foremost – IT IS FOR OUR SPIRITUAL GROWTH. IT IS FOR US TO DISCONNECT FROM THE MATERIAL WORLD AND MAKE TIME TO CONNECT WITH HASHEM a minimum of three times a day. This will strengthen our Emunah in Hashem and His Hashgacha Pratis, which is SO crucial for our ruchniyos. (See the Kuzari – Maymer Shlishi #5.) 2 – A proper tefilla, with concentration, will create great closeness to Hashem. Deveikus, ובו תדבק, is attained by talking to Hashem. 3- Tefilla will also strengthen our awareness of Hashem. The more you talk to Hashem, the more real He becomes in our lives, which is absolutely crucial for our Yiras Shomayim (See Rambam Hilchos Brachos Chapter 1 halacha 4 where he explains why Chazal obligated us to say 100 brachos throughout the day. [The brachos of shemoneh esrei are included in the 100.] He says it’s in order “to constantly remember Hashem and [thereby] fear Him”.) 4- Tefilla is also to remind us that it’s NOT … כחי ועוצם ידי עשה לי it’s not my strength, my knowledge, my products, my talents, my advertising, my contacts that gives me my parnassa, or health or anything else, rather it’s Hashem that is behind everything going on in our lives, and it is only Hashem that is behind any of our successes. Proper Tefilla is that constant reminder. 5- Tefilla is a time for thanking Hashem for all He has given us. Hakoras Hatov is an important part of our shleimus. Finally…
6- Yes, as we know, a few of the brachos of Shemoeh Esrei are for our personal material needs, but most of the brachos are NOT. Shemoneh Esrei is mainly for praising and thanking Hashem. It is tefillos for our spiritual needs like ,סלח לנו השיבינו and it’s tefillos for Klal Yisroel (even our personal Tefillos are written in the plural form so that we are automatically also davening for Klal Yisroel, and we should try to have that in mind) and even better, for Kevod Shomayim, when we daven for the Geula, Yerushulayim, and the Bais Hamikdash. (What a great zechus it is to daven for Klal Yisroel and Kevod Shomayim!) Yes, of course, Shemoneh Esrei is also an opportunity to daven for our personal needs, but it’s NOT the main purpose of Tefilla. In fact, the main reason that Hashem gave us so many needs is mainly so that it will help us want to connect with Him to ask Him for His help in our Tefillos, but that’s really for the potential spiritual benefits that those Tefillos can provide us. The main purpose of Tefilla is to have that personal “connecting time” with Hashem at least 3 times a day, (whether or not you have all your needs taken care, but that’s not the main point of Tefilla).
Of course, it goes without saying that to properly connect to Hashem in Tefilla, we need to daven with kavana and slowly (as the halacha requires us to daven in a slow supplication/pleading mode ESPECIALLY the first bracha of Shemoneh Esrei).
In addition, for a proper Tefilla, we must have in mind at the beginning of Shemoneh Esrei that Hashem is actually standing right in front of us, listening intently to what we are saying. This will greatly increase our Emunah, and our Yiras Shomayim. It’s obvious that such feelings of closeness to Hashem can’t be accomplished if we are speeding through the davening. Proper Tefilla needs serious focus and concentration. In addition, we need to have a lot of “derech eretz” while we are standing directly in front of Hashem. We must stand like a mentch and talk like a mentsch to Hashem. That includes not to CHAS V’SHALOM LOOK AROUND DURING SHEMONEH ESREI; it’s a huge insult to Hashem to look around while standing and talking directly to Him.
It’s also very important to know that davening with a strong connection to Hashem, day in and day out, will cause major spiritual changes in a person, and it will thereby help cause bad decrees to be removed from that person. How? Since you are now a “NEW PERSON”, you are not the same person that the decree was put on, so it is removed and things can now become MUCH better! These changes WILL happen, but they won’t happen if we are rushing through Shemone Esrei. WE MUST SLOW DOWN.
However, again, Tefilla is mainly for the spiritual gains that you can get from it. Hashem wants our spiritual growth as much as possible. That’s the main reason He put us in this world, and proper Tefilla will help us greatly to attain that spiritual growth. This takes us back to point 2 above. To daven properly with great deveikus to Hashem takes a strong understanding of what our true purpose of being in this world is. Otherwise, why should we strain ourselves to concentrate and connect to Hashem? Lehavdil, Thomas Edison said that the most difficult thing for a person to do is to think, and Tefilla takes a lot of thinking. That’s why it’s called Avodah – work. Because it IS work. Proper Tefilla needs a lot ofעמלות for it to be effective. Good things do not come easy.
ONCE A WEEK TEFILLA INITIATIVE
Some practical advice. Pick one tefilla a week that you can “afford” to take your time with, and force yourself, if you must, to take as much time as necessary to CONNECT STRONGLY WITH HASHEM. At first it shouldn’t be the whole shemoneh esrei. Choose two or three brachos to put special concentration on. (Rabbi Avigdor Miller ZT”L said that the first bracha of Shemoneh Esrei needs mesiras nefesh to make sure you have kavana by it, since otherwise you haven’t fulfilled your obligation of saying Shemoneh Esrei. So, the first bracha takes precedence over all the other brachos.) Slowly but surely, you should add on more and more brachos with kavana.
One last point. It’s highly recommended by the Mishna Berura (Orach Chaim Siman 122 #8) who brings the Chaya Adom that says that every day one should ask Hashem for all their personal requests, in any language. Where should they be said? All the way at the end of Shemoneh Esrei, right after the words, L’man Yichultzun Yedidecha Hoshia Yimincha Va’aneini.
This in short are the real purposes of Tefilla, and being aware of them will BE”H help us to exert more effort to improve our Tefillos. If you have any comments, or questions, please feel free to email email@example.com. Yasher koach
For more articles on Tefila, visit the website of Rabbi Samuel Waldman.