Explore Ways to Overcome Barriers to Meaningful Tefillah!
Barrier: Can I be both
needy and joyful?
Succos is a time of joy, which brings me to wonder about joy in teﬁllah generally. What emotional space should I be in when I daven? Is there a place for calmness, or should I feel like I must beg and plead? Can I ever ﬁnd joy in davening, or is that a contradiction in terms? After all, if I daven, that means I need something. And then, how can I be in a state of joy?
I’d like to embrace the purity and holiness of Yom Kippur, but I’ve been through
a Yom Kippur every single year, and I’m never very different at the end of it. We’re told the day itself brings us to a high place. But isn’t that just a tease? We get to a place that’s impossible to sustain. How does this translate into everyday life?
The nusach of the tefillos seems to send conflicting messages. On the one hand, we have the 13 Middos of Rachamim, the niggunim that uplift us. On the other hand, again and again and again we say Vidui. I don’t find it easy to recite a litany of everything I’ve done wrong (as well as many things I haven’t done wrong and I say anyway). It drags me down. How can I reconcile the two aspects of the day and the davening?
We’re a generation that doesn’t give punishments, only consequences. We try to shower our children with positivity and love. Now, we come to Rosh Hashanah and recognize the din. It’s serious. And we find it off-putting.
We’ve always related to Hashem as a loving Father. We ask, we beg, and we do so with the confidence that He wants to hear from me, give to me. Every year, as we lead up to Rosh Hashanah, we feel like we’re losing our footing. Suddenly, we begin relating to Hashem as a King who sits in judgment. How can we relate to Hashem as our King in a meaningful way?
We know the theory: Crowning Hashem King is a privilege and so should be done joyfully. But, how does that work?
How is it that we have an entire Elul to prepare and yet Rosh Hashanah seems to spring up on us? That happens every year, but this year I feel more unprepared than ever.
The last few months have been difficult for everyone, but all I seem to have felt are my inadequacies. I’d love to say that I used the challenges to strengthen my emunah and invest in my family, but honestly, I just struggled through it.
And now another year is on the threshold and my disappointment in myself is reflected in the way I feel about the impending Yom Tov, and in my davening. How can I even try to come close to Hashem when I feel so empty?
Okay, so I get that I have to recalibrate my prayer. Tefillah is not just a time to ask and ask, it’s a time to acknowledge the Source of every-thing, a way to bring Hashem into my life, to make a dirah b’tachtonim. But still… I’m left with an uncomfortable feeling.
I have fears and anxieties about what the future will bring. Especial-ly after the tumultuous events of this past year, I don’t know that I can rely on just Hashem’s love to make life turn out good. Along with the rest of the human race, I’ve seen my fair share of hester Panim, pain, anguish. To simply relinquish control makes me feel nervous and out of control — what’s going to be?
Too Empty, Too Full, Generally Closed It’s one thing if I have the opportunity to go to the Kosel or Kever Rochel, and cry and talk and say Tehillim for three hours. When I’ve done that, I’m often left with an incredible uplift. Everything inside washed away and a good kind of emptiness remains — like I’m an open vessel, waiting for renewal. It’s beautiful and uplifting.
But in daily life, with limited time and concentration, I don’t get anywhere near that place. As a matter of fact, most times I open my siddur and don’t feel anything at all. I daven because it’s a habit — a good kind of habit, because I believe if I keep doing it, I’ll be able to generate some meaning sometimes.
Some days, I close my siddur feeling like I missed out on something precious; other days, I just feel apathetic. I’d love to take everything that’s going on inside of me and translate it into words of prayer. I just don’t know how.
It’s the classic end to innumerable high school classes: If you only daven hard enough, Hashem will grant your tefillos. A variation on the theme is the image of a great measuring cup in Heaven, filled by tefillos, waiting to spill over, and thus our requests will be granted.
We take in all these messages — and they do contain a truth. But while we may know that tefillah is about a relationship, not a Heavenly ATM mechanism, too often, we’re left with the message: Just daven, daven, daven. And then what happens?
We’re passed over for the job. Another buyer makes a better offer on the house. Shidduch after shidduch after shidduch. Empty arms and aching hearts. Illness. Pain.
We daven harder. We daven with a sense of desperation. If only I can get it right, I might hit that magic button. We daven hoping frantically to control our future.
At a certain point, our siddur ceases to be a sanctuary. We may feel bitter, or disillusioned, or even betrayed. I did everything right. I davened and davened and davened. And all I received was deafening silence.
Rosh Hashanah is approaching. We know Elul is the time to return to Hashem through tefillah. But there’s a barrier in place, drying up our words before we can even form them.