Remember the davening contests and charts our kindergarten teachers used to make for us, to get us all to daven nicely? Remember how we used to screech the words of Adon Olam and Krias Shema at the top of our lungs, so that we could get that coveted gold star next to our name? Never mind that we did not know what we were saying or how our tefillos had relevance to our daily lives. We were talking to Hashem, and our teacher told us that we were making Hashem proud—and that was enough of a reason to get us to continue with our scree—I mean, davening. Oh, and we were also going to get a prize once we had enough gold stars.
That might have been fine for us as kindergarteners. But we would hardly be impressed with an adult who davened like this. No matter how loudly one davens, if one does not understand what he’s saying and how the words of his prayers can affect his life, well, such a person will not be called a “good davener.” And certainly such a person will not be getting any gold stars for his prayers, or winning any prizes.
How can a person work on having the tefillos he says “speak” to him? A great book that can help you achieve this goal is Portraits of Prayer. Here is a treasury of stories, all on the words of the daily tefillos, each explaining, clarifying, and bringing down to our level lessons that we can learn from those tefillos.
On the words “she’tatzileini…mei’adam ra u’mei’chaver ra” (Yehi Ratzon after Birchos Hashachar), you’ll read how Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman escaped meeting up with a person about whom, fifty years beforehand, the Alter of Slabodka had warned Rav Ruderman to stay away from; and on the words “v’rachamav al kol ma’asav” (Ashrei), you’ll read about the Arizal’s admonition to a person who removed a ladder from his home, thus preventing the chickens he raised from having access to their water bowl. Truly there is something for everyone in this book.
Prayer is something that is always in need of chizuk. After all, it is our lifeline to our Creator. Once you read Portraits of Prayer, you can be sure that the tefillos that leave your lips each day will take on an entirely different meaning—and you will be the one to benefit from that.
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