Commitment and Recommitment to Tefilla
As an educator and a parent of teenagers, I am interested in hearing about practical suggestions for how to educate for commitment to the requirement to daven daily, while at the same time creating a feeling of freshness and inspiration in tefilla.
The second half of sefer Shmot is a good jumping off point for talking about the nature of tefilla. The description of the people’s contribution to the mishkan in parshat Vayakhel seems contradictory. On the one hand, the Torah commands, “Take from among yourselves a terumah to Hashem,” and then, “every person whose heart inspires him should bring…” (Shmot 35:5) Was this giving required or voluntary? The Kli Yakar calls this “two types of giving,” one where it hurts your heart to give and the other where you give with a full heart.
This is similar to the Talmudic discussion regarding tefilla, which was of course based on korbanot. Tefilla, like the gifts to the mishkan is required and at the same time fixed. Yet, Rabbi Eliezer says: One who makes his prayer “set,” his prayer does not constitute “pleading.” (Mishna Berachot 4:4) One interpretation of this statement is that tefilla needs to include some “chiddush.” The Rabbis understood that tefilla would sometimes feel more like a burden than a privilege, and therefore suggested that it should include something unique and voluntary so that it does not become robotic repetition. Perhaps this is reflected in the way the Rabbis describe tefillah עבודה שבלב, “service of the heart” (Talmud Bavli, Ta’anit 2a). It’s service, a requirement, but also in our hearts, in our own deepest desires. The giving to the mishkan and the dual nature of tefillah leave us with the thought, how can we help make tefilla in our schools, in our and communities and in ourselves feel both a mitzvah — an obligation — and also genuinely voluntary?
Potential ideas for creating this balance in educational settings:
- I have been teaching tefilla this year to a group of adults. We have found that actively discussing the tefillot themselves and thinking deeply about the philosophical issues related to tefilla, has enriched our own tefilla experiences. Perhaps more time thinking and talking about tefilla is one way to keep us committed and at the same time enthusiastic about tefilla.
- Creating opportunities for students to work on new ways to connect with parts of tefilla through subjects that they find interesting and relevant.
I’m interested in hearing about other ideas and suggestions.
Great post. One factor that helps keep Tefillah meaningful, is keeping in mind that it’s a conversation with Hashem. I teach 2nd grade. I find that children are very open minded and sincere. I invite them to talk to Hashem and thank Him for the good in their life, ask him for what they desire, etc. When they start to understand that Hashem is our loving and caring Father in heaven and how he loves to hear from us, their Tefillah reaches another level. Instead of, “you should say these words (which you may or may not understand) because it’s… Read more »
Teaching children requires building foundations. Here are some foundations that I believe would be very helpful in developing strong Tefillah if taught from preschool. Mishkan – Tefillah has an architecture corresponding to that of the Beis Hamikdash. Children should be intimately familiar with at least its floor plan, the location of the k’lei hakodesh and their purpose. The Mishkan is a simpler version of the same layout for which one could actually produce a 3D scale model that preschool children can take apart and reassemble. With this we can give children a spacial, non-linguistic approach to Tefillah. אתה – This… Read more »
I think that you have wonderful ideas and so do the others who commented but let me ask you a simple question: why is the Siddur the only Hebrew text that students do not study line by line, page by page as they do Chumasch, Navi and Talmud? Why do they not examine the sources from which the Tefillot were chosen? There is a first Siddur, Seder Rav Amrom Gaon and a second Siddur, the Siddur of Rav Sa’Adiya Gaon. We have wonderful websites where teachers can extract samples of what Jews in different parts of the world recite and… Read more »
However, translations are not enough. My class has learned the translation of almost every word of Shemoneh Esrei. That doesn’t mean they’ll automatically say the Tefillos with Kavana…
Perhaps I was misunderstood. I did not mean translations. I meant: why these words? why this order? I have found three sources that explain the order/ selection of the Brachos of Shemona Esrei. Each one adds to our understanding of Shemona Esrei.
I completely agree. I understand that Maimonides school in Boston did this based on the Rav’s recommendation. I personally didn’t have this and I think there is so much more that can be done. A few less minutes on gemara shiur (which is so important) and a few more minutes on tefilla. However, I think we need to talk about it in a more relevant way, especially with teens.
Karen-I agree that a course on Tefila needs to be made relevant to teens and that it is the job of teachers. I meant to direct my comments to teachers. Teachers need to first study Tefila before they can offer a course on Tefila. Just because a teacher prays three times a day does not make him /her qualified to teach a course in Tefila. Rabbinical Seminaries and Jewish education programs need to offer nuts and bolts courses on Tefila. Equipped with that knowledge teachers can then fashion courses on Tefila. I also want to correct a statement that you… Read more »
Thank you for that background. I have seen Rabbi Wohlgemuth’s book which great. I completely agree with you!
Teaching tefillah to our students and inspiring them in tefilllah are two very important goals in our schools. Rabbi Hyiam Reiffman has given a lot of thought to this topic and developed a course called: Making Prayer My Own: Finding Meaning in the Siddur. This course aims to help students strive for the deep and significant meaning that Tefillah can offer them. Contact me for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org