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.