Yehuda Eisenberg
A Curriculum in Tefilah

"It is good for me to draw near to G-d" (Tehilim 73:28) wrote David. To what was David referring? How can man be near to G-d?

The answer is found in the words of the medrash which explain why the matriarchs were barren. They were barren, says the medrash, because G-d was eager for their tefilot, and when they would want a son, they would pray to Him.

Tefilah, if so, is the means through which man draws near to G-d. Tefilah is the experience of the Jew who approaches and stands before the Almighty. We can easily understand why there is a commandment incumbent upon every Jew to "worship G-d with all his heart and all his soul." (Shmot 23:25)

Tefilah has a long history in biblical literature. Avraham prays on behalf of Avimelech and his family (Beraishit 20:17) as well as on behalf of the degenerate cities of Sodom and Gemorrah (Beraishit 18:23); Yitzchak prays on behalf of his childless wife, Rivkah (Beraishit 25:21); and Channah requests a son (Shmuel I 1) in what is probably the most famous of all tefilot, and that from which many laws of prayer are learnt.

Another aspect of the tefilah and its importance in the religious training of each child is its place in communal life. A child enters into the Jewish community through the synagogue, where he feels himself a part of the congregation and finds that the life of the community is his life and his tefilah is like that of the adults.

Not every man can devote time to learning Torah, not every man can comprehend the depth of its words, but every man can pray. Tefilah is, thereby, the uniting thread of all the Jewish people, wherever they may be. It is, therefore, of little surprise that the Chassidic movement stressed the importance of tefilah, Bait Knesset, and Kavana - devout prayer.

And finally, through tefilah one enters into the world of Jewish history and philosophy. In the siddur one comes face to face with the chronicles of the Nation of Israel - Gzairot T"Ch; Roshai Hagolah b'Bavel; Shmuel HaKatan; Avoth; Bait HaMikdash; Galut - all these are found in the siddur, and the tefilah gives them depth and meaning. And from history - to Jewish thought. What is meant by "Shma Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu"? by "Ata B'chartanu mikol ha'amim"? To what are we referring in "Shfoch Chamatcha al hagoyim asher lo yedaucha''? To whom are we referring in "Shehem mishtachavim lehevel varik umitpalelim el El lo yoshia"? All these are the basis of Judaism, the principles of the life of the Nation of Israel. Tefilah opens before the worshipper means of reflection, investigation, and understanding.

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