Judaism’s Little Secret – It’s Hard to Pray

The Secret
A big issue, when it comes to Shuls and Jews, is that davening is very difficult. This is not pointed out very often from the pulpit, possibly because it would discourage people from making the necessary efforts to improve.

Why is Davening Difficult

One of the reasons that prayer is difficult is because it is very complex. In Shacharis, the morning prayer service, there are five distinct parts 1) brachos and korbonos, 2) Pesukei D’Zimrei (songs of praise) 3) Shema and its Berachos, 4) Shemoneh Esrai, 5) End of service. Each part requires different applications of our emotional, intellectual and spiritual components. Davening is also difficult because the act of speaking to G-d is a very abstract process. The third major difficulty is keeping focused and maintaining focus, a problem whose existence is evident from the halacha for hundreds of years. This has certainly become worse over the years as our world has become a more distracted place.

Bad Habits are Hard to Break
People learn to daven very early in life when they don’t have the intellectual maturity to understand its depths. As a result the “Shake and Fake” process, as the kids sometimes call it, gets baked into a potentially lifelong bad habit of going through the motions. Years of Shul going in the early years can also effect our approach to davening.

The Problem for Shuls

As we’ve pointed out in previous posts, one of the primary purposes of gathering together at Shul is to pray. If people are not focused on the prayer process, then the Shul will not be aligned around the goal of providing a great prayer environment. The result of this misalignment leads to problems like talking, speed of davening and structure of the prayer service, which we’ve discussed. In non-Observant Shuls, the disconnect from prayer has been described as a leading cause of the Decline of the Great American Non-Orthodox Synogogue.

What We Can We Do

The first step is to educate people to the fact that almost everyone has trouble with concentration during davening, but with effort we can improve over time. Providing shiurim and starting vaadim (groups working on improving) is a great step in the right direction. Sharing experiences that worked among members can encourage the attitude that if my neighbor has improved, then so can I. From a Shul Politics perspective it’s important to keep “providing a great place to daven” high on the Shul’s agenda even if we’re not at the level we would like to be regarding prayer.