Yehuda Eisenberg
A Curriculum in Tefilah

The instruction of tefilah is not simply the instruction of hymns and prayers; it is not simply the translation of the words of the tefilah. Beyond these, instruction in tefilah is the teaching of central themes which transcend the individual tefilot; it is the examination of basic problems of which tefilah is just a part.

The following chapters are models for analysis of general problems in tefilah. We will note here, in addition to the chapters which are specified in the continuation, a few topics with which the teacher may deal, when he feels that benefit would be forthcoming from such treatment, according to the level and interest of his students.

1. What is the meaning of tefilah?

Why do we pray? Doesn't G-d know what we lack? Why after our tefilah do we get - or hope to get, because at times our tefilah is not accepted - what we request?

This is a difficult problem and it is better to deal with it only in advanced groups in the higher grades. The teacher will find a basic treatment of the question in "Sefer HaIkarim" of Rabbi Yoseph Elbo (ma'amar 4 chapters 18-19). The central idea of his answer is this: Hashem gives to man according to the preparations that he makes in himself. With the aid of tefilah, man readies himself to receive what Hashem gives him - he subordinates himself to G-d, he accepts His rules. Tefilah is an alteration in the behavior of man and, consequently, it is a reason for an alteration in what has been decreed for him.

2. The obligation of tefilah -

What is the obligation of tefilah - is it from the Torah or derabanan? From where do we learn that there is an obligation to pray? What are the obligations of women, and men?

According to the Rambam, the obligation is from the Torah and is derived from the verse "V'avadetem et Hashem Elokaichem" in Shmot 23, 25. According to the Ramban, it is derabanan, a charity which G-d bestows upon us in that He listens to us and answers when we call upon Him.

A bibliography for the topic includes:

Brachot 21, 1; Rambam, Sefer haMitzvot, Mitzvot Ase Hashem. Rambam, Hilchot Tefilah 1,1. Ramban, Hassagot leSefer haMitzvot Ase Hashem. Rabbi Yoseph Karo, Kesef Mishne l'hilchot Tefilah 1, 1.

3. Tefilah in a congregation -

What is the obligation to pray as part of a congregation? What is the difference between the individual praying alone and the congregation as a whole standing together in petition? What is the difference between the individual who prays in his own interests and he who prays for the entire congregation?

The teacher will find a consideration of this question in the Sefer haKuzari Ma'mar 3, 19. There the individual who prays alone is likened to the man who strengthens the ramparts of his own home but neglects the walls of his city. He thinks his home will be safer, but he is really losing out, because it is easier to fortify the city walls with a combined effort than to strengthen each home separately.

4. The history of the siddur -

When was the tefilah first organized? When were various tefilot first joined together? What eras speak to us from the siddur? A consideration of the siddur from an historical perspective will result in an interesting picture of the annals of Jewish history: "Av Harahamim" has reached us because of "Gzairot T"ch; "Me sheberach leRosh haGolah" is from the period of Roshei haGolah in Babylonia; "v'lamalshinim" was added against slanderers in the days of minim, and so on and so on. A teacher whose class is interested can find material on this topic in the bibliography at the end of this syllabus.

A teacher dealing with this topic will stress the positive side of historical analysis - not an analysis in order to list the year of creation near each tefilah, but rather to see how each generation made its unique contribution, a contribution which has meaning for generations.

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