By Chanah Rose
There are many more analogies that can be dwelt upon for Tefilla, both classic ones and original ones that you and your students or children might come up with. For the final mashal in this article, I’d like to share one that has more indirect than direct sources, but that has touched me personally. That is the mashal of music.
First of all, there is the direct connection between music and Tefilla to speak about. Our Rebbeim have emphasized the pisgam, “hakol me-orer hakavana1 קצש”ע סימן ו’ סעיף א’ – the voice arouses intent.” On a simple level, this means that hearing our own voice helps us have kavana, and therefore a person should daven out loud.
In Sefer HaNigunim, the kol in this pisgam is explained as referring to the voice of negina, of music. As for the word kavana, while it generally means voice or direction, it is also related to a word for window. Therefore, hearing a Niggun opens a window in our heart, for inspiration to enter. (A way to act upon all the meanings of this pisgam? Daven with a Niggun; there’s nothing better!)
On a more subjective level, using the analogy of music helps us relate better to the Nusach HaTefilla, the words that Chazal provided for us to use when we pray.
Have you ever played a musical instrument? I used to take piano lessons, and always envied those talented few who can play by ear, simply sitting down with beautiful music emerging from them. For most, musical achievement only comes after meticulous study of the notes and technique of your chosen instrument, and then learning a composition of an accomplished composer so that you can play it as your own. Only then, can you begin to play with feeling. Only then, after playing a complex song ten or twenty or one hundred times, can you close your eyes and lose yourself in the music, with all of the emotional intent the melody finally washing over you and those listening.
It is similar with many artistic forms, and other examples can be provided to give an entry point to students with other hobbies. While an artist might want to sit down and splash emotion on canvas, learning the complex technique of color and light and shadow can help them achieve this in a much deeper way. So too, with Tefilla.
We may want to open our hearts and our mouths and express ourselves simply, wholeheartedly, to Hashem. There is room for that, as many Chassidishe stories illustrate. In fact, the holiest days of the year are marked by the unstudied, unsophisticated, visceral cry of the Shofar.
But if we were to express ourselves in that way throughout the year, it would be like a symphony made of trumpets alone. There is so much nuance, so many shades of feeling, to our relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu. There is an instrument that we need to learn, a whole new language in fact – the language of the Neshama.
The Anshei Kneses HaGedola knew this language best. They captured it for us; they arranged the music and wrote the score. When we daven, pronounce each word and learn its meanings, we are doing our Neshama the indescribable favor of learning her language! Through Tefilla, our Neshama can sing.
Indeed, when we learn Peirush Hamilos, when we dwell on the meaning of the words and think about how we can relate to them, when we pay attention to the flow and the cadence and the beauty of the Tefillos, we begin to resonate with the music in the Siddur. It is no coincidence that our Rebbeim would sing during Tefilla. Think of the Niggunim of the Tzemach Tzedek which Chassidim learned by overhearing their Rebbe’s davening.
There is a beautiful story that describes how the Frierdiker Rebbe was so accustomed to hearing his father, the Rebbe Rashab, sing while davening, that he thought the word davening actually meant singing. This was illustrated when, as a young child, he once told his uncle the Raza, “Father is eating and davening,” when he was actually singing Niggunim during a meal. Likkutei Dibburim2See for example Volume 1, page 242-246 (English translation) – especially recommended to learn/teach during Elul and the Yamim Noraim! is replete with similarly evocative descriptions of Chassidim davening, singing, humming… descriptions which wrap us up in the beauty of Tefilla.
This discussion addresses the question that many people have, especially teenagers, about the seemingly limiting nature of the Nusach HaTefilla. But on the contrary – the words of Tefilla do not limit us. Instead, they set our Neshama free.
Baruch Hashem, there are so many resources today for teaching and learning about Tefilla. There are comprehensive curricula for various grade levels, there are Tefilla journals all prepared with prompts for your students (and selves), and even coloring books to help us be misboinein! There are Sichos and Maamarim, there are Seforim and stories. The list is endless.
One such story which sums up this entire topic, is about the famous crossroads in the Alter Rebbe’s life when he needed to choose whether to continue his studies in Vilna, the famed seat of Torah scholarship in that time, or Mezritch, the seat of Chassidus. His brother, the Maharil, advised him: “In Vilna, they teach you how to learn, but you already know how to learn. In Mezritch, they teach you how to daven, and that you do not yet know how to do. Go to Mezritch.
If the bottom line of Chassidus, of choosing Mezritch, is represented by Tefilla, it deserves a fundamental place in our lives and in our Chinuch. And when we do focus on Tefilla, although the what is vitally important, remember the Frierdiker Rebbe’s urging that we focus on the how. After all, the what of davening – its meticulous Halachos, its translation, and even its deeper meaning – is surely something the Alter Rebbe already knew. It is the how of davening, which is the gateway to the entire path of Avoda and of Chassidus, which he was looking for in Mezritch.
We are the Mezritch for our students and for our children. Let’s give them one of the greatest gifts that Chassidus gives us – the how of Tefilla.
- 1קצש”ע סימן ו’ סעיף א’
- 2See for example Volume 1, page 242-246 (English translation) – especially recommended to learn/teach during Elul and the Yamim Noraim!