In a nutshell, the biggest problem is that most people feel that Tefilla is like a minhag, a practice that we Jews have of saying certain words three times a day. So, to fulfill this minhag, this halacha, they just run through the Tefillos, often at great speed.

I mean, let’s think to ourselves: What is the common denominator of saying Shemonah Esrei, Ashrei, Uleinu, L’Dovid Hashem Ory, Bentching, Asher Yatzar, Al Hamicheya, Borei Nefashos, Ashamnu, Bugadnu, Tachnun/V’Hoo Rachum, Avinu Malkeinu, Pesukei D’Zimra, the “Yom”, Burchi Nafshy, Kiddush Levana and Krias Shma Al Hamita all have in common? I think we would agree that most, if not all of these Tefillos, are Tefillos that we “say like Ashrei”. We say them with little if any thought, in spite of the fact that by Tefilla the main thing is one’s thoughts as common-sense dictates.

But wait…there’s one Tefilla on this list that is absolutely unacceptable to be on the same [low] level of kavana as the rest of these Tefillos, and that’s SHEMONEH  ESREI. The rest of the Tefillos we could technically and halachically live with if they are just rattled off with very little thought going into the actual meaning of the words. (Of course, it’s a pity to spend/waste so much time davening without kavana, but that’s not our point right now.)

However, SHEMONEH ESREI has a huge amount of halachos “attached to it” that requires it to be in a category of kavana all on its own. It MUST be understood that in many aspects, it belongs on a MUCH HIGHER LEVEL THAN ALL OTHER TEFILLOS.  (Maybe put Chovos Halevavos footnote here.) This is why we are writing on Tefilla, because too many people daven Shemoneh Esrei, more or less, the same way that they say Ashrei and Uleinu. I cringe when I think of how many times I have had the opportunity to observe fellow frum Yidden davening Shemone Esrei in such a lackadaisical, totally uninspired way. And even those who do put some extra effeort into their Shemone Esrei, it is still very far removed from what the basic Halacha really requires. Unfortunately,I am talking about really frum people. This requires a huge correction, and rectification. Hopefully, this sefer will bring about a huge improvement in the way we at least daven Shemoneh Esrei, (and most likely it will thereby also improve the way we say the rest of all our Tefillos.)

Unfortunately, in general, by most people, Tefilla seems to be done similar to the way we people do many mitzvos, meaning that it’s just “something that has to get done”, yotze tzoo zein, just to do the minimum to fulfill our Halachic obligations, which we have mentioned above aren’t being fullfiled with regards to the Halachos of Shemone Esrei. We frequently hear people say; I am going to “chap”, (literally “grab”), a mincha, or “chap” a maariv. Why don’t they simply say; I am going to daven maariv? That’s because Tefilla is being done just like many other mitzvos that are being done in the same uncaring, obligatory way, devoid of any real feeling, meaning, or devotion to Hashem. Doing mitzvos in such a way is called doing Mitzvos Anushim Milumada. Mitzvos that people do by habit. It’s called a “heartless” mitzva. A mitzva done with no heart, emotions or thought. It’s like a religious robot performing the mitzva for us.

Unfortunately, many mitzvos are just done habitually, without any serious connection to Hashem while doing them. However, when it comes to the mitzvah of Tefilla, this lack of concentration and feeling, and this lack of attempting to connect with Hashem during Tefilla is completely unacceptable. There are many authorities (Maimonides, The Chovos Halevuvos and the Kuzari) which say that a Tefilla without the proper concentration is really not considered a Tefilla at all, since the main point of Tefilla is the thought and concentration behind the words that you are saying. (This is likely also a result of being trained to daven and do other mitzvos when we are young (which may be something that should be done in a better way, but that’s not the focus of this sefer, since of course there’s the mitzva of Chinuch Yeludim.) but surely as we get older our Tefillos (and other mitzvos) must mature with us as well and become the Avoda Shebelev it was always supposed to be.

Truthfully, Tefilla was never meant to be easy. It’s an amazingly meaningful, and purposeful endeavor, but it was never meant to be easy and as we know, one literal translation of the word Avodah is work, as in labor. There’s a good reason for that, since a proper Tefilla takes “work” for it to be a Halachically, Hashkafically, and Morally sound Tefilla.  The Avudraham on Shemona Esrei (Seder Tefillas Shachris) says very clearly that the meaning of the word Avodah that refers to Tefilla means actual work, labor. It’s the work needed to remove all our extraneous thoughts and the work of refocusing our minds and concentrating on the words of the Tefillos.

In fact, if you do not consciously feel that you are actually exerting “real effort” to daven, then in all likelihood your tefilla needs serious adjustments. Reading this sefer will hopefully give you motivation to be willing to put in the necessary work needed for a proper Tefilla. Tefilla is called avodah shebileiv, because it’s supposed to be work of our hearts and our minds. We learn out the obligation of Tefilla from “U’Leuvdo Bechal Levavchem”; and you should serve Hashem with all your heart (Devarim 11:13) – which is referring to Tefilla (Mesechet Taanis 2A).  (Leiv in the Torah and Chazal, almost always refers to the mind, and it certainly means that with regards to Tefilla.) So, just like Torah learning needs to be with עמילות with much toil and effort, so too Tefilla needs to be done בעמילות with great toil and effort. Yes, let’s coin a new, (yet old) term עמילות בתפילה!!

Of course, even hard work can be very enjoyable. There are many jobs that people do and they enjoy their job very much, even if though it is difficult to do. They enjoy doing their difficult work because they know that their hard work will bring important beneficiary results. Well, the immense beneficiary results of a proper Tefilla, as difficult as it may be at times, is one of the most important and valuable AND ENJOYABLE things you can possibly do, day in day out, throughout your lifetime, with the resulting effects carrying over in a major way to your reward in the World to Come. It’s a tremendous spiritual experience filled with Dveikus BaHashem. What’s there not to enjoy!?

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