HaRav Avigdor Miller and HaRav Shlomo Wolbe both point out that the Siddur is one of the oldest sources of Written and Oral Torah. Most of what we say was formulated by the 120 Men of the Great Assembly (Anshei K’neses HaG’dolah), which was comprised of the last of the Prophets and the earliest of the Tana’im. Most of P’sukei D’Zimrah is from T’hilim, compiled by David HaMelech. Therefore, it is Torah study of the highest order. HaRav Avigdor Miller (Praise, My Soul!) writes:
“By proper use of the regular prayers, they can serve as a table of contents and an index to almost all of the general principles of the Torah, and the duties of the heart, and the ways of love and fear of Hashem. The study of the Siddur is an important form of Torah-learning and is also a major method of gaining greatness of soul and of acquiring the True knowledge” (sensory awareness of Hashem).
Most of the rest of this article will introduce the new Pathway to Prayer Siddur. More than 30 years ago, HaRav Mayer Birnbaum wrote his original Hebrew version of Pathway to Prayer on Shemoneh Esrei. The following is the English version of Maran HaGaon Rav Elazar M. M. Shach’s approbation:
I have seen the Kuntres Avodas HaTefilah by Rabbi Mayer Birnbaum, in which he explains and translates each and every word of the Shemoneh Esrei, so that it shouldn’t be among those exalted things that people treat lightly, chas v’shalom. Everything that he translated and explained is from reliable sources.
Although the Sages have described the greatness of tefilah, the habitual saying of tefilah causes one to say it quickly and without concentration, as if he was preoccupied, while thinking that he has fulfilled his obligation. For this reason, the author has come to inspire people and to explain to them the necessity for each person to put more thought into learning tefilah.
And since I know that these words are being published purely for the sake of Heaven, they will surely enter the heart of every individual and will have a great influence.
I close with a great blessing that the author’s words should be widely spread and accepted.
From me, who honors him and respects him,
Elazar Menachem Mann Schach
Now, in addition to the weekday, Shabbos, Rosh HaShanah, and Yom Kippur forms of the Shemoneh Esrei, and Birkas HaMazon, HaRav Birnbaum has just made available in English the Pathway to Prayer Siddur (distributed by Feldheim Publishers), which includes the entire Siddur including Rosh Chodesh tefilos.
The Siddur is designed as his other works. The Hebrew text is on the right, and the translation, along with the meaning and intent, are on the left, line by line (only one or two lines on the left per Hebrew passage). Although we are highly encouraging study outside of the time of tefilah, it is also very easy to use during tefilah to look at a phrase you are not yet familiar with.
Here are some quotes I selected from his introduction, in order to encourage all who do not yet understand all of davening to purchase this wonderful Siddur:
- Translation and Explanation: Much time and effort were invested in researching every available commentary on the Siddur (from the earliest Rishonim through modern-day commentaries) to find the most literal, yet meaningful, explanation of each and every phrase of davening. In this extensive research, many put-of-print and rare commentaries were used.
- What is Tefilah? The Maharal writes that Tefilah brings one closer to Hashem, similar to what korbanos did in the time of the Beis HaMikdash (korban is from the Hebrew word “kareiv,” which means to come close). This is one of the reasons that Hashem desires to hear the tefilos of all of klal Yisrael. He wants all of us to come close to Him.
Interestingly, we demonstrate this with a physical action every time we begin Shemoneh Esrei; the Rama (OC 95:1) says that we take three steps forward before we start in order to show that we are coming close to daven to Hashem!
- Achieving Closeness: However, this closeness is not achieved by merely saying words, but by thinking about the words being said. As R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l wrote in his monumental Horeb (p. 551): “It is obvious that the fruit of your inner self’s growth from the tefilah can ripen only by means of devotion (kavanah). Your prayer has only the worth that you have acquired from its thoughts and sentiments.” In other words, what one achieves through davening depends on one’s kavanah.
Maran HaGaon R’ Elazar Menachem Mann Schach zt”l said that we say over 1,000 tefilos each year; with each tefilah we should increase our recognition of the greatness of the Creator and our dependence on Him. If we do this, each tefilah will raise our spiritual level; if we don’t do this, we are not davening properly.
We close with two final quotes from the Pathway to Prayer Siddur:
- The Yosef Ometz [written by Rav Yosef Neurlingen, 1570-1637] writes (chapter 26): “Someone who has the ability to learn and understand the meaning of the prayers and fails to do so merely out of laziness is considered a willful sinner, because he shows that he does not want to have the proper concentration! … It is obvious that the obligation for everyone to learn the meaning of tefilah comes before any other subject in the world.”
- Finally, the sefer Darchei No’am (written by R’ Shmuel ben Eliezer – this is one of the only s’farim to have received the haskamah of the Vilna Gaon) writes: “One must be very careful to daven properly, especially in these times, which are close to the arrival of Mashiach… because there is nothing that affects the heavenly spheres like tefilos that are favorable to Hashem, for the coming of Mashiach depends on them!”
We can bring about the coming of Mashiach, but it requires “tefilos that are favorable to Hashem,” proper tefilos – tefilos with kavanah. May we merit the G’ulah Sh’leimah speedily and in our days.
Be prepared when you get asked one of the first questions that we are asked after 120: Did you yearn for the Mashiach? By dedicating a couple of minutes a day to study and internalize the Siddur (We highly encourage the use of the new Pathway to Prayer Siddur for most people, as described above), you can respond, “Yes, I did.”
As a practical tip, the best time for Siddur study is right before one or all of our tefilos. Imagine if everyone came to minyan two-to-five minutes early and studied the Siddur. Imagine how different the tefilah would appear. Everyone would be present before davening. Nobody would be talking before davening. Once we understood and appreciated the power, beauty, and greatness of tefilah, we wouldn’t have to worry about cell phones ringing and dinging in the middle of tefilah. We would be focused during tefilah on connecting with Hashem and yearning to reunite with His Sh’chinah in Yerushalayim. That kind of unified tefilah will bring the Mashiach. May we merit to see that day with our own eyes speedily in our days.
CONSIDER: Speak to your rav about starting a two-to-five-minute “Siddur Seder” before one of the daily tefilos.
To access print versions of previous Tefilah segments,
please visit OU Torah’s Search portal, select the Topic of “Tefillah,”
and then select “Weekly Tefilah Focus” from the Series list.
For Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman’s video and audio shiurim, which are based on our Tefilah Focus segments but also include his insightful and inspiring additions, please visit TorahAnytime.com
or simply search for “TorahAnytime Rabbi Finkelman.”
You can direct any questions or comments to Eliezer Szrolovits at 917-551-0150.