This book is the outcome of a transformational moment that happened to me many years ago while I was a young student in yeshiva. One day after I had just finished a mind-bending class in Talmud and was about to pray Mincha — which was strategically scheduled right before lunch, so that we would at least pray with fervor that there be something edible for lunch that day — a little voice went off inside my head and said, “David, what are you doing?”
“I’m getting ready to daven,” I answered.
“But David,” said the little voice. “Look at how hard you work at understanding the Gemara. Look at the intensity of concentration you apply to your studies. But do you understand your daily prayers? Have you applied to them the same rigor of analysis as you have towards passages in the Talmud?”
“Not now,” I shot back, “I have no time for this right now. I have to daven.”
But the voice kept challenging and annoying me, coaxing me to actually pray with some heart and soul — to really mean and feel what I was saying. I thought to myself, “I’ve been davening for years now, why should I change now?” So I stubbornly resisted but finally I gave into the dare.
So on that day, I took three steps back and three steps forward to recite the Amidah, and I began to ponder the very first words, “When I call out the name of Adonai ascribe greatness to our God….” How perplexing, I thought. Why, when I call the name of God, would I ascribe greatness Him? What is the difference between the two Hebrew names of God used here — YHVH and Elokeinu?
I was stumped for an answer.
Then I continued, “Adonai, open my lips, and my mouth will speak Your praise.” Again I wondered: What does that mean? Why do I need God to open my lips to speak His praise? I moved on, “Blessed are You…” What does blessed mean? How and why would I bless God?
And all of a sudden, while I was trying to daven, my mind was applying Gemara analysis to every word of the prayer text. I was standing there, and everyone had finished the entire prayer but I hadn’t even got past the first blessing. Everyone said Aleinu and left for lunch, and I was just in the middle of the second blessing. Soon, the whole place was empty, and I was only up to the third blessing.
Suddenly, I had a profound mystical experience. I heard a growl, a deep growl coming from the center of my being. I wondered: Could this be the voice of God? But as I listened more carefully, I realized that it was just my stomach davening, praying for food. I knew that if I didn’t get to lunch soon, there wasn’t going to be anything left. This was a question of life and death. So I knocked off the next sixteen blessings.
But I felt challenged. And I realized that I was a fake — I had been praying for years three times a day and had never really tried to understand what I was saying. I had never asked myself what I should be feeling or how prayer should impact me.
This book is my response to that challenge. It is the culmination of years of thought, analysis and research to find meaning in, and get inspiration from, my daily prayers. I hope these insights will be as life-changing for you as they have been for me.
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