I have to admit that my focus as well as my general inclination is more towards Torah learning and teaching than towards davening. To be really honest, most of the time it’s very difficult for me to develop much more than minimal כוונה, Kavvanah, intention/focus in which to frame my tefilla. I’m not proud to say that many more times than not, I merely read the words, and often too quickly. And here’s another little secret: most people I share this with tell me they have the same problem really engaging with their prayer.
This troubles me not because I feel that I’m doing something wrong or that my fefilla is invalid–I do, indeed, read every word three times every day–but rather because I realize, each time, that I’ve missed yet another tremendous opportunity to deepen my relationship with The Creator. I’m fortunate that I do have alternate paths develop my spiritual relationship, primarily, as I mentioned, learning and teaching Torah, but this fundamental possibility seems largely undeveloped.
I should clarify that I’m not talking about a sense of disappointment that my prayers aren’t “answered”. The Mitzva of Tefilla, like all Mitzvot, is aimed at deepening our relationship, increasing our דבקות, Devekut, attachment with God via the Tefilla-“channel”. Although we are, indeed, invited to offer our “shopping list”, describing our personal needs and wants, we shouldn’t really pray in just order to get what we want (in our conversation, the Divine Answer can easily be “no”). Since we often use our voice in prayer it’s easier to think of this mitzva as really a private dialogue with The Creator. In truth, all of our mitzvot are exactly that, even if, as most of them are, totally non-verbal (although many do have a verbal component, the ברכה, B’racha, blessing, we say to accompany many of them).
Nonetheless, I usually feel that while I did, minimally at times, fulfill the Mitzva of Tefilla, I sure want to enhance it.
I’ve explored the קדושה, Kedusha, holiness of the individual Hebrew letters. One thing I’ve learned is that each letter is engineered, uniquely, to transmit infinite-while-still-unique אור, Or, spiritual energy. This life-energy is contained/expressed through several modes including the sound the letter makes, its name (in Hebrew) and what it means (the name of each Hebrew letter actually has semantic meaning, for example ב, Bet, means “house”, ד, Dalet, means “door”, etc.) and also it numerical value (the Hebrew letters also function as our numbers). The shape of each letter also conveys meaning. Additionally, since every letter can be generated from the smallest, point-like letter, י, Yud (which is the first letter of God’s Name, and thus represents that aspect of Him), each letter also contains various permutations and combinations of the Divine Names. Unseen in a Torah scroll (but visible in printed Hebrew), are the נקודות, Nekudot, literally points, but functioning as vowels and the טעמים, Ta’amim, musical notes (also known as trop marks), and these also contribute meaning beyond the actual sounds and melodies. A small set of letters are also “crowned” with תגים, Tagim, decorations at their tops (paradoxically, while these almost never appear in printed books, they are required on all Torah scrolls, Mezuza and Tefillin parchments) and these also have meaning (There is a story that Moshe, while on Mount Sinai, transcribing the first Torah as directly dictated by God, asked why he was instructed to embellish these certain letters. He was whisked into the future to sit in the back of Rabbi Akiva’s בית מדרש, Bet Midrash, study hall, where the rabbi was expounding on the meanings/energy of these crowns. He said that this knowledge went all the way back, directly from Moshe on Sinai, even though Moshe himself was never consciously aware of this information!)
Another level of meaning is generated by making anagrams of the letters which spell the name of each letter (coincidentally, these are contained in a small book titled אותיות דרבי עקיבא, Otiot d’Rabbi Akiva, the letters of Rabbi Akiva). We’re also taught that more energy/meaning resides in the blank white spaces surrounding each letter than in the letter itself! And all of these letters combine not only sound and semantic meaning, but spiritual life-energy as they form into words by weaving all these previously-mentioned energies into a single “fabric”.
I also very strongly believe in Hashgacha Pratit, that The Creator really does “personally” supervise every instant of each of our lives. He insures that we receive precisely what we need (not necessarily what we want) each moment of our lives.
Finally, here’s the insight I had during Pesach, last week, that led me to this article. I realized that an acceptable kavvanah might well be that as my eyes wash over the stream of letters which make up each of our daily tefillot, prayer services, even if I’m not able to focus consciously on meaning at any level, my נשמה, Neshama, soul is bathed in exactly the energy I require at that instant. Even when I’m not even aware of the meanings of my words and sentences, and I have to admit that’s the case all too often, I am still interacting deeply with God. And, after all, that’s the whole point.