Category: Tefillah Workshop

Rabbi Gershom Tave: Tefillah Workshop: Shiur Four – Shema Yisrael continued (01/14/18)

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 We continue learning the first parsha of Krias Shema. The third verse commands us to relate to the mitzvos as being commanded today. Rav Schwab relates a meeting he had with a Conservative rabbi in which this rabbi was very proud of his connection with tradition. Rav Schwab replied that while he is proud that countless generations of his ancestors kept the same mitzvos, that is not a reason to continue to keep them. We keep the mitzvos because right now, at this moment, Hashem, my Master, wants me to do this mitzvah.

The next two words should strike us very powerfully. על לבבך. They should transport us to the end of davening in עלינו לשבח when we say וידעת היום והשבת אל לבבך. Unfortunately for many of us our familiarity with this verse ends there but the next words are critical. We are instructed to intellectually know and then internalize to our hearts כִּי ה’ הוּא הָאֱלקִים בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וְעַל הָאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת אֵין עוד. These words essentially reiterate קבלת עול מלכות שמים so we are to not only to accept intellectually that Hashem is our complete and only Master but to fully internalize that fact.

The remaining verses of this פרשה emphasize this point. ושננתם לבניך. The Gemara says that we should read this ושלשתם. Rav Schwab explains that one should first learn a topic twice before teaching it to his children and/or students. The objective is not just to make the learning sharp for his children but for himself, speaking primarily Torah and קבלת עול מלכות שמים. In this way we teach more by example than by lessons. Again, we need to internalize and live Torah and אמונה.

וקשרתם לאות על ידך. R. Schwab points out that we put tefillin on the זרוע rather than on the יד. The זרוע is symbolic, as we say in the Hagadah, of control over nature. We, too, put our tefillin on the זרוע as a sign to ourselves to control our nature. Why, then, does the Torah say to put the tefillin on the יד? The יד is representative of our actions, so as to say that Torah and Emunah should be imprinted and recognizable in our actions.

והיו לטטפות בין עיניך. The Gemara explains the word טטפות as derived from two different words in two different languages both of which mean “two.” The question, then, is why could Hashem not have used some foreign word for “four?” The answer lies in the fact that the פרשיות are in fact paired. The first two פרשיות, which are קדש and והיה כי יביאך, deal with physical מצוות and therefore relate to קדושת הגוף. The second two פרשיות, which are שמע and והיה אם שמוע, deal with the קדושה of our נשמות. It is fascinating to note that the first two פרשיות are also placed over the left side of the brain which is dominant in people who are more connected with their physical existence while the second two פרשיות are located over the right side of the brain which is dominant in people who are more spiritual and artistic in nature. The general idea is that, with the tefillin, we are binding our actions and all aspects of our thoughts to the Will of Hashem, our Master. Similarly, the Gemara in Brachos explains the verse, וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם ה’ נקרא עליך ויראו ממך, the nations of Earth will see that the name of Hashem is called upon you and they will fear you. אמר רבי אליעזר אלה תפילין שבראש. “R. Eliezer says, these are the tefillin that are in the head,” and the commentaries point out that R. Eliezer does not refer to the tefillin that are on the head but rather the tefillin that are in the head. The message of שמע needs to be deeply internalized.

Finally, R. Schwab explains that the mitzvah of mezuzah, with which this פרשה ends, reminds us that nothing, even our home and our possessions, is permanent except the knowledge of HaKadosh Baruch Hu if we make a connection with Him.

Hence the entire first פרשה of קריאת שמע should be read as a message to imprint the knowledge, love and trust of Hashem in our minds and our hearts.

Click here to record your Tefillah experience every day so we can track how we are growing in our relationship with Hashem.

A recording of this session will be available at https://goo.gl/KP7ueS.

Join us in person at PTI, 441 Passaic Ave, Passaic, NJ, every Sunday from 8:00 – 8:20 or via Google Hangouts at goo.gl/bcFxbP.

See also https://sites.google.com/site/gershomtave/tefillah-workshop

Rabbi Gershom Tave: Tefillah Workshop: Shiur Three – Shema Yisrael (01/07/18)

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Our first attempt to hold כוונה for more than a few words like ברוך אתה ה and Hashem’s name where ever we encounter it will be in קריאת שמע.  It bears repeating that developing כוונה in davening is a big project and no one should expect to be able to wake up one morning and maintain כוונה throughout the whole of davening.  It is a habit and mindset that must be developed over time.  Therefore, we are not going to go serially through קריאת שמע but will cover the first paragraph and then move to another subject so that you can have a break from the strain of maintaining כוונה.

I heard the following from R. Simcha Wasserman zt”l.  When we say the words, “שמע ישראל” we should realize that we are talking to ourselves.  Even a Cohen or a Levi is also a Yisrael.  We are saying, “Hey, you, Jew, listen, pay attention.”  It is this statement that I adapted when I mentioned by the name י-ק-ו-ה that when we have in mind אדון הכל as it says in סי’ ה of the שולחן ערוך we should bring that to ourselves with the realization that הכל includes me.  We have to bring these statements to impact ourselves personally.  שמע ישראל.  Pay attention.
We know that during the first verse of קריאת שמע we are supposed to have in mind קבלת עול מלכות שמים.  This is actually the simple understanding of the first verse.  In addition to the meanings of י-ק-ו-ה as אדון הכל and היה, הוה ויהיה (Was, Is and Will Be), the name י-ק-ו-ה is Hashem’s name of Mercy.  He is a merciful Master.  אלקינו is Hashem’s name of Judgement – דין.  So we are saying in this verse, the merciful G-d and the judgemental G-d, יקוה אחד, are one.  The most loving parents must also sometimes be strict for the best of the child.  So, too, we accept that both Hashem’s kindness and judgement is all kindness and that whatever He does is for our best.
When we say ואהבת, aside from pronouncing it correctly v’ahavTA with the accent at the end (to do otherwise completely reverses the meaning) we should think, “I love you, Hashem.”  R. Avigdor Miller, zt”l, suggests in his shiur The Artificial Man that when passing the mezuzah, which also contains this verse, one should quietly say, “I love you, Hashem.”  It doesn’t matter whether or not we have really developed the feeling of love in our relationship with Hashem.  We should work on conditioning ourselves by at least saying the words, “I love you Hashem.”  Here, too, during קיאת שמע when we say the words ואהבת את ה אלקיך we should think, “I love you, Hashem.”
בכל לבבך has two בs which means we should serve Hashem with both our יצר הרע and our יצר הטוב .  We can use otherwise bad midos, for example, to be jealous of others who have learned more Torah than we have so as to drive ourselves to learn more.  We can be angry at ourselves for having failed to keep a Torah goal that we had set for ourselves.  An example of serving ה with our יצר הטוב might be to leave the בית מדרש to go help someone just at that time that our learning is so geshmak and we’re having fun.  Another example happened to me recently on Shabbos.  I had finished שמונה עשרה just in time for Kedusha but still had to say the paragraph of אלקי נצור.  My שמונה עשרה had been amazing and Kedusha was especially beautiful and kept my eyes closed and just floated with the chazzan and finished אלקי נצור after the repetition.  I asked my rav after davening if I’d been right to do so and he told me that in fact I’d been wrong.  I had an obligation after Kedushah to finish my own davening through אלקי נצור.
בכל נפשך means “even if He takes your נפש,”  but we need to actualize these words for ourselves.  Imagine, that someone would approach you with a gun and say, “If you’re a Jew I’m going to shoot you.”  You should imagine then replying, “I’m ready when you are.  Go ahead and shoot.”  Rav Schwab writes, “At the moment when a person resolves to allow himself to be killed for kiddush Hashem, if necessary, the resolution itself is considered as if the person had already offered his life for HaKadosh Baruch Hu.”  We can thus actually perform the mitvah of Kiddush Hashem.
There are multiple interpretations of בכל מאדך but it is interesting to note that in the second paragraph of שמע there is no corresponding בכל מאדכם like there is בכל לבבכם ובכל נפשכם.  The idea of בכל מאדך is personal and individual.  The word מאד means very much.  Rav Schwab coins the term to love Hashem “with your very muchness” – that which makes you special and unique.  The suffering that a person endures, in particular, is very uniquely designed for him and no other person on Earth can understand what the person is experiencing.  Accepting one’s suffering with love for Hashem is an opportunity to bond the uniqueness of the individual with the uniqueness of Hashem on a level even higher than בכל נפשך.
Click here to record your Tefillah experience every day so we can track how we are growing in our relationship with Hashem.
A recording of this session is available at https://goo.gl/KP7ueS.
Join us in person at PTI, 441 Passaic Ave, Passaic, NJ, every Sunday from 8:00 – 8:20 or via Google Hangouts at goo.gl/bcFxbP.

Rabbi Gershom Tave: Tefillah Workshop: Shiur Two – Atoh (12/31/17)

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When we take that extra half-second to focus on Hashem’s name, to pronounce it correctly and to have in mind the relationship implied in the word Adon, it will have the side effect of making it harder to keep up with the minyan and to daven בציבור.  We have to keep in mind that the definition of תפילה בציבור is that we begin שמונה עשרה with the ציבור — that’s it.  What’s before that point in time and what’s after doesn’t matter.  You can start early and go at your own pace and just make sure that you reach שמונה עשרה at the same time as they do.  When they reach קדושה in the חזרת הש”ץ just stop and listen and then go back to doing your own thing and let them continue on with theirs.   If you see that you are going to miss the target, there are shortcuts you can take during פסוקי דזמרא, but do your best to arrive early enough to take the time to daven properly.

There are other tefillos in the beginning of the siddur that are also worth adding in if you can take a little more time.   You probably haven’t said אדון עולם during the beginning of davening since first grade when your school dropped it to make time for other parts of davening as if they really thought you would keep saying it on your own.  אדון עולם spells out our relationship with Hashem, including the second כוונה in the name י-ק-ו-ה that He Was, Is and always Will be.  The fourth stanza is והוא קלי, and He is MY G-d.
The second word for our journey is אתה.  This I consider the most frightening word in the שמונה עשרה.  By way of analogy, imagine you hear a news report of a huge space ship shooting out tractor beams and moving massive objects and doing all sorts of awe inspiring feats which has just been sighted in….  and as the news report is about to tell you where this ship is you actually see it outside your window and are filled with horror and dread at the realization that this awesome power is right in front of you.  When we say ברוך, we recognize that Hashem is the wellspring and the source of everything and all power.  When we say אתה, speaking in the second person, we recognize that Hashem is standing right in front of us.  Then, to finish the analogy, when the spaceship gets close enough we see that the pilot is not an alien at all, but our close friend.  The relationship that we have with Hashem is indeed a close one.
As we focus on the shem Hashem, we can notice and reflect on the different references to Hashem in the שמונה עשרה and you can download from my website (at the bottom of the page) a highlighted copy of the תפילה which shows how sometimes, other than the end of the brocha, there is no direct reference to Hashem.  In the brochos of תשובה and of סליחה we see the combination of אבינו and מלכנו.  Sometimes we see in a brocha the shem י-ק-ו-ה and sometimes י-ק-ו-ה אלקינו.  In the second brocha is the shem א-ד-נ-י.
I heard on Torah Anytime that, according to at least one rishon, the minimal required amount of כוונה לפירוש המילים in the שמונה עשרה is the first brocha.  For the rest of שמונה עשרה it is enough just to be aware that you are standing before the ריבונו של עולם.  By focusing on our relationship to Hashem and all references to Him, may we be zoche to truly develop our relationship with Him.
Click here to record your Tefillah experience every day so we can track how we are growing in our relationship with Hashem.
A recording of this session is available at https://goo.gl/KP7ueS.
Join us in person at PTI, 441 Passaic Ave, Passaic, NJ, every Sunday from 8:00 – 8:20 or via Google Hangouts at goo.gl/bcFxbP.

Rabbi Gershom Tave: Tefillah Workshop: Shiur One – Shem Hashem (12/24/17)

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Rav Shimshon Pincus once explained that the reason we have so much trouble with Tefillah is that we are too connected to this world, העולם הזה. We need a “rocket engine” to get us away from the pull of this world.  We will discuss a powerful “booster rocket” later, but let’s discuss a more subtle “technology”.  There are new drives that produce only a small amount of thrust but from negligible amounts of fuel using electricity from solar panels.  If you would strap such a rocket engine to your chair, fasten your helmet and turn on the ignition, you may or may not feel a push, but push it does.  Later, once we are away from the pull of this world, we will use this drive to push us faster and faster.  For now, let’s use it to build up the pressure that will ignite our main engines.

The single most important word in all of our tefillos is the shem Hashem, י-ה-ו-ה.  It is not just a name like בערל or יענקל.  It has meaning and we must focus on its meaning.  The whole point of Tefillah is to become close to Hashem, to develop a relationship with Him.  How can we do that if we don’t even know His name?
The Shulchan Oruch, ס’ ה, says that when one says the shem Hashem, he is to have in mind that Hashem is אדון כל, the Master of All.  Rav Shimon Schwab adds that I should have in mind that He is my master and that I am His servant.  After all, aren’t I part of All?  Before we call Hashem King we call him Master.  A king may or may not have a relationship with any one of his subjects.  My Master has a relationship with me.  I am His servant.
From now on, whenever we encounter the shem Hashem, whether א-ד-נ-י or י-ה-ו-ה, in any part of the Tefillah, let’s have in mind that He is our Master and that we are His servants.  Click here to record your Tefillah experience every day so we can track how we are growing in our relationship with Hashem.
Join us in person at PTI, 441 Passaic Ave, Passaic, NJ,
every Sunday from 8:00 – 8:20 or via Google Hangouts at goo.gl/bcFxbP.