Blogging Ellul: Tefillah - Prayer

Of the three core ingredients to the High Holidays; Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedakah (return, prayer and just giving) tefillah - prayer - is perhaps the one that gets the least attention. Some  will spend more time in synagogue over the next month than the rest of the year, and even for regular attenders this is a pretty intense time!
So how can we ensure that our tefillah is meaningful? Of course there's no quick or simple answer to this, and the answer will be different for everyone. Preparation is an important part of course, and Ellul is supposed to help us with this, but lots of other factors will play their part. For me, music is always an essential part of my prayer life. This Saturday evening we will have our special choral selichot service, when we begin to really hear and feel the sounds of the upcoming festivals. They strike a mood in me that is like no other time of the year, and the evocative music is almost all I need to bring me into the space of High Holiday prayer.
There is one piece that throughout the year has always been a source of inspiration. On the Shabbat morning of my Bat Mitzvah, my Rabbi took me into her office and presented me with a piece to read before we went onto the bimah. It has remained a source of help and prayerful contemplation, particularly as my own role in leading prayer has grown:
Forget everybody and everything during your worship. Forget yourself and your needs. Forget the people of whom you have need. Then in truth you may worship the Lord.
When you offer prayer, imagine yourself as one who is newly born.; without achievements of which to be proud; without high family descent to make you arrogant. Forget all dignity and self esteem. Remember only your maker.
Before the prayers, remember any good qualities you have, or any good deeds which you have performed. This will put life into you and enable you to pray from the heart.
Nachman of Bratzlav
These words have helped me over the years, but more than this, two other things have always aided my prayer; music (as already mentioned) and community. When others raise their voices with mine, it feels as if they help to carry each other on their journey, just as we left on earth carry each other on our journeys within community.


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