Fridkis Column: Forms of Prayer: The Conversation Begins
Lou Fridkis: 1) I don’t think I have ever demanded anything from Hashem. My emphasis is on interaction. E.g. when I was younger I prayed for a child. After a while (and 3 wonderful children – B”H) I thought that maybe I was being arrogant to continue this prayer. I wanted another child, but thought perhaps it was not correct. Like a child who asks for more candy, but the parent knows that more candy is not good for the child. If i am asking for something that is not good for me, should Hashem give it to me? No. So, I changed my prayer – help me to be worthy to have another child. I.e. even if its not the right thing to actually have the child, helping me to improve myself is more likely to be something that is appropriate. Perhaps this is the same as your statement; “Perhaps I should focus on our relationshipS with God…”
2) I believe that Hashem communicates with me through prayer. E.g.:
One night, after watching a video of “Schindler’s List” I davened Maariv. I went into the living room, sat on the couch and began – “v’hoo rahoom yi’ha-pear avon” (“He, being merciful, repairs sin” is the way I translate this) – and I started to cry. After several minutes of blubbering, I began to say, “why, why?” Then, i noticed that there were 3 helium balloons in the room. One was against the ceiling, one on the floor, and one about 5 feet above the floor, its string partially on the floor. I realized that i was seeing 3 phases in the process of a balloon falling. The 2 balloons that were not yet on the floor were in the process of falling, but very slowly. If not for there being 3 of them, in these positions, and perhaps, the state of mind I was in, which was partially due to the fact that i was davening, i might not have recognized (hopped) this. I saw this as a message from Hashem – you cannot understand something like the holocaust without a very long-range historical perspective.
3) “When I ask students and other people in shul how they daven, they do not even understand the question.”
I am a Baal Teshuva in the sense that I was brought up in a secular Jewish home with no Jewish content. I didn’t even learn Aleph Bet until in my 30s. At first, also in my 30s I learned to Daven by reading the prayers in English. This was when I was just experimenting, before I decided that I would follow the Torah. Then, when I made the change, I was told to daven in Hebrew. This was difficult and time consuming because I was learning to read and pronounce the letters. I spent 15 minutes each morning and said very little. As time went by, I started attending a minyan and got to the point where i was almost able to say everything, but, of course, it was just meaningless sounds. Still, I felt I was doing the “right” thing because I was doing what Hashem wanted me to do. One Shabbos morning, I was davening in shul and I looked around. Every mouth was moving so fast! I thought, “what are they doing, what am I doing? This is not ‘right'” This was a paradigm shift for me. From then on, I began translating, one finger on the Hebrew and one on the English. Two subsequent Shiurim bolstered my confidence in this change. In one, the Rabbi said, “Quality is more important than quantity. In the other the Rabbi explained what to do if you are late to shul in terms of skipping. I asked, “Do the same rules apply if you are not late, but just slow?” He answered, “Yes.” This, for me, was tremendously liberating.
When my children were in elementary school, they were taught to daven. Very little, IMHO, was said about why compared to what was said about how. They were taught that davening is about being in synchronization with the rest of the class. It is something that you “have” to do. I spoke with the Menahel and could see his points. While he agreed with me in principle, and did have some time dedicated to why, teaching this to children is difficult, partially because they may not have the capacity to understand why.
But, what about adults? For example, when dealing with a Baal Teshuva like myself (and even FFBs), perhaps instead of teaching: here are the rules for skipping if you are late; teach: here are the rules for skipping if you are slow (and by the way, apply the same rules if you are late). Or, here are the rules for skipping if you just spent 5 minutes thinking what a miracle it is that Hashem makes a distinction between day and night. What a miracle it is that the sunrise/sunset is so beautiful, etc., when you said the prayer, “bayn Yom oo vayn layla”, etc.
I Every morning in my school, we say Perek (Chapter) 20 of Tehillim (Psalms) and then go through a list of about 50 names of wounded soldiers and sick people to ask for their refuah (healing). Do you think it is effective at all? It’s hard for me to believe that saying dozens of names of people I never met is helpful… But is it?