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Rav Shimon Schwab: Tefillah

The 14th of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Shimon Schwab (1908-1995). Born in Frankfurt-am-Main, Rav Schwab learned at Mir and Telz before becoming dayan in Darmstadt and Rav in the district of Ichenhausen in Bavaria. Escaping nazi Germany in 1936, Rav Schwab served as Rav in Baltimore, then in New York in the Washington Heights area, following Rav Joseph Breuer.

Up until the time of the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah, Tefila was unregulated. The Rambam says that it is a Mitzva Min HaTorah to daven at least once a day. How often, for how long, and what to daven for were totally personal choices. All the Tefilos we have today and even the Brachos, Kiddush, Havdala, Kaddish, etc. were all compiled only in the time of the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah.

Rav Shimon Schwab points out that it is no coincidence that structured tefila started right around the time that the Yetzer Hara for Avodah Zara was abolished. Although we think of someone who worshipped idols as a fool, it is only for the very reason that the Yetzer hara is gone. In those days people yearned for all sorts of spirituality, it was their inner joy and calling. Avodah Zara was a very spiritual exercise, albeit a very misguided one.

The abolishment of Avoda Zara, in a way, was the abolishment of yearning for spirituality. We are not attracted to it nor do we see it and understand it. For this reason we do not long for tefila either and we consider it a chore. Davening is not geshmack like it used to be. Our yearnings are focused in more mundane directions and so are our Taavos and our Yetzer Hara. Chazal enacted a very structured set of tefilos to guide us in the darkness of today’s spiritual pathways. We are no longer capable of navigating them alone.

We may not know what we are doing or where we are going, but as Rav Shimshon Pincus says, if grab our siddur and hold it near our heart we will be taken by rocket boosters on a journey far beyond. So hang on and enjoy.

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