The Wings of Morning -
A Torah Review
Yaacov Dovid Shulman
|WINGS OF MORNING
Volume VII, Issue 54
Ki Tavo 5763, September 2003
Unless otherwise noted, translations and original material copyright © 2002 by Yaacov Dovid Shulman (firstname.lastname@example.org).
How much of your davening lacks kavanah (feeling)? Would you say 10%? 20%? 50% or more? And has this been going on for so long, for so many years, that you have accepted it, that you believe that anything more would be unreasonable? Have you convinced yourself that this is a normal part of your avodat Hashem (service of God): davening without feeling and without concentration, thus proving that you are committed to serving God even when your heart is not in it?
Or do you occasionally daven with kavanah, even with fervor, but cannot control when this will occur–or it occurs only on specific occasions, such as erev Shabbat (Sabbath eve) and yomim tovim (holidays)?
According to Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (the Piaseszner Rebbe who was killed in the Warsaw Ghetto), this level of davening is not something that you have to resign yourself to. You can daven–every time–with the kavanah that you want.
And on the other hand, davening without kavanah should not even be on your radar screen. In fact, the Piaseszner Rebbe says, no matter how much you have worked on being an oveid Hashem, no matter how much you have learned and applied yourself, if you are unable to generate genuine feeling and kavanah every single time you want to, every single time you daven, then you have not even come to the lowest level of being a genuine hasid of Hashem.
This is an extraordinary statement, so please allow me to repeat it: the Piaseszner rebbe says that if you cannot on command, every single time you daven or bench or make a brachah, generate true kavanah–feeling and even fervor–then you are not even at the lowest level of being a genuine Hasid of Hashem. This is the case even if you are a true "ehrlicher Yid!"
But, says the Piaseszner Rebbe, you can learn how to arouse your feeling and passion in avodat Hashem whenever you require it–kavanah on demand. You don't have to wait for spontaneous feeling, for inspiration from above. To the contrary, you can and have an obligation to arouse your own feelings and light a spark to your own inspiration every single time you want to!
But how? The answer is: through techniques–simple, repeatable techniques that you can implement right now in your avodat Hashem. Where can you learn what these techniques are? The Piaseszner describes a number of these techniques in his classic works, Bnai Machshavah Tovah and Hakhsharat Ha'avreikhim. In addition, he points out that other techniques exist as well.
You can find these other techniques in the seforim that inspire you. Read those seforim and when they recommend a technique, do not simply glance over it. Take note of it and that day put it to practice in your own davening and avodat Hashem.
Find the techniques that work for you and then implement them–not occasionally, but on a regular basis. When one technique loses effectiveness, employ another. Make up your own techniques–whatever works for you! Constantly apply effort to your avodat Hashem. Hone your skills. Most of all, always remember: if you are not achieving kavanah in your davening a full 100% of the time, you are not doing well enough.
Based on the teachings of the Piaseszner rebbe, I have compiled the following list of recommendations to inspire feeling in davening. Start to put them to use today.
Before you begin davening (particularly for shacharit, morning prayers), take a few seconds to do each of the following sequentially:
1. Consider that when you look at the world before you, you are looking at God, and that God is looking at you.
2. Feel the Presence of God all around you.
4. Imagine feeling a strong emotion, such as love, desire, or awe, in the presence of God.
3. In the presence of God, visualize something as though it is right there. For instance, visualize that you are standing at the Kotel. You might concentrate on one detail, such as the wall before your eyes, the sun shining down, one note stuck in the wall, a chair next to the Kotel, and so forth.
5. See yourself davening with effort in concentration and physical effort (shuckling, clapping).
6. See yourself singing part of the davening.
(You can note these six items on an index card or on the inside cover of your siddur, and take a moment to focus on each one before davening.)
Before beginning the davening, recite an additional prayer. This can be something spontaneous in your own words or a prayer that you don't usually say. The following idea (from R. Nachman of Breslov) is particularly powerful: take a volume of teachings that inspire you. Read the words of a passage and recite the idea as your own personal prayer to God.
In addition, or as an alternative, sing a tune such as "Adon Olam" or a wordless niggun.
Then begin praying.
1. During the prayers, you might sing a portion of each section of prayer–morning blessings and sacrifice recital, psalms, Shema, Shmoneh Esrei, Tachanun, Ashrei, daily song, Aleinu–using a tune that inspires you (such as a Shabbat zemirah).
2. Alternatively, at various places (e.g., right before Sh'ma, in-between blessings in Shmoneh Esrei) hum or sing a wordless niggun.
3. Recite other parts in your own tune or sing-song.
4. As you daven, if your mind starts to drift or daydream about something, refocus on the six items mentioned above. Stop and sing.
5. If you realize that your mind has drifted off elsewhere (you might be daydreaming about how to daven with concentration!), do not berate yourself. Bring your mind back to the davening now.
6. In the course of the davening, visualize something as though it is right before you. For instance, when reciting the section on incense offerings, see the incense smoke wafting from its container.
7. Alternatively, visualize that you are in some other location and even some other time. You can concentrate on one thing or change from one to another, as suits your purpose. You can bring yourself to a holy spot, such as seeing a ner tamid before your eyes, or bring yourself to a spot in your personal history and uplift it with your present worship. You can go to an imagined inner location that you visualize, a safe and holy site within you. You can stand with the Jews at the foot of Mt. Sinai (since your soul was already there, why not bring your imagination there?). See yourself here or in another setting davening with fervor. You can allow something to arise spontaneously from your imagination. Your possibilities are endless.
8. You might want to use images from Tanach or from the Sages. Conjectural point (my own, not the Piaseszner's): perhaps the Sages' stranger images, such as Yehudah's chest hairs popping through his shirt like porcupine quills, are meant to be used as visualizations.
9. Who says you have to be a human being? The Jews are compared to many animals. How does it feel to daven as a mighty lion or as a swift deer? (Note: these particular visualizations are my own idea and do not derive from the Piaseszner.)
10. Use your body vigorously: clap your hands, sway, raise your arms.
11. Sense yourself filled with feeling. Imagine standing in the Presence of God. What does that feel like? What does that look like? Where does that take place?
12. Employ these techniques at least in part every time you say an asher yatzar blessing (after leaving the bathroom) or a blessing after eating food.
13. No matter how powerful, techniques always require mindfulness. If you have failed to meet your expectations today, it is only because, unlike Superman, you cannot leap buildings at a single bound. Expect your growth to take time. It might take a long time. It might take a very long time. It might take much longer than you would have ever expected. It might take your entire lifetime. That's ok! By focusing on your davening growth, you are constantly changing and improving. And it's going to take as long as it's going to take.
14. Go back to this again and again. Remember the Piaseszner's promise: it is possible, it is reasonable to expect to be able to arouse your kavanah every single time you daven. Never accept a goal lower than this.
15. As you are davening, do not critically inspect your kavanah for imperfections and flaws. Accept any level of kavanah gratefully and happily. Remember: even if your feeling was artificially aroused, on a much deeper level, your soul expressed its genuine desire to serve God. The more you engage in this, the more will you bring your soul to the fore.
Good luck--hatzlachah rabbah!
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