Prayer Skills: She’arim Batfillah
The 12th of Nisan is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus (1944-2001). Imagine a child returning home after his first year in university. His parents have mortgaged their home to pay for is very expensive education, and are interested in learning how much he is gaining from all this money they are spending. “Please tell us about the things you have learned,” they say. “Well, to be honest,” he says, “I haven’t learned all that much.” How would these parents feel? They certainly expect that after spending a year in university, for which they are spending a fortune, that their son would have gained something.
Now imagine a person asking himself the same question at the end of the year: how much have you learned over the past year? How would he feel if after a year of studying, growing, and working hard, all he could say was, “I haven’t really gained all that much”?
Now apply the same question to prayer: we pray at least three times a day. Prayer is described as, “Avodah,” or, work. We have spent hours and hours over the past year working; working on our prayer, and working with our prayer. What would happen if we asked ourselves after a year of praying, “How much have you grown in prayer?” It would probably be devastating.
It is essential for a person to examine his prayer on a regular basis to see how his prayer is improving. Is he praying better than he was a year ago? Has he achieved new levels of connecting to God? Does he have more insight into his prayer? Does he find that his prayers are more effective?
The only way to be sure that we can answer all of these questions in a positive way is to spend a great deal of time working, not only on the words of the prayers, but on our prayer skills. There are numerous approaches to prayer: Ten according to one midrash, and thirteen according to another. The more skilled we are at all the different forms of prayer, the more effective our prayers will be, the more rewarding the experience, and the more certain we can be that our prayers will engender phenomenal spiritual growth.