Regular Tefilla, badly translated as “prayer”, is pre-programmed for us three times every day. Of that small minority of us who actually take advantage of this opportunity, surely less than half can even roughly understand/translate what we’re saying, and even fewer have a more sophisticated idea. For many, the thrice-daily tefilla has degenerated into, at best, a speed vocalizing project that rarely penetrates our minds, let alone our hearts.
Repetition, however, encourages familiarity and at least vague recognition, even if only at the sound level. If we learn a little bit about just a few of the phrases we recite daily, it can be very eye-opening, For too many of us, Jewish religious practice has degenerated into check off boxes on a too-long and too-complicated To Do List. It’s a shame to lose the daily sense of wonder, “Is this what our tradition is really telling us?”
The morning service, and thus the Jewish day, begins with a series of Brachot, praises of God. The first one says, “HaNoteyn l’Sechvi Bina l’Havchin Beyn Yom U-Beyn Lilah“, thanking and praising The Creator for giving the Rooster, not the smartest of creatures, the intellectual tools to distinguish between day and night, in other words, to recognize that it’s a new day.
Can we, on the other extreme of the intelligence scale, actually recognize that each morning is the beginning of a new day? Not just a day, but a new one, filled with opportunities and potential. Although we’re all creatures of habit, we needn’t be slaves to it. We can, and if we intend to grow and improve, to daily come closer to realizing our potential, we must see ourselves as new beings, new creations, each and every day. If we intend to change, to do Tshuva, returning to our untouched roots and potential, we necessarily need to leave our old mistakes, the damage our actions caused, our Aveirot, sins, behind. Only then can we try to fix them and to move on to new challenges in the eternal process of tikkun, refining ourselves and our world.
This often seems an impossible challenge. Where can we find the reserves, the inner strength, the wisdom, to no longer be trapped in the past?
Several pages later, as we begin the brachot, blessings, for the Shema Yisrael, we say, “U-VaTuvo Michadesh B’Chol Yom Ma’aseh Bereishit“, In His Beneficence, in His pure goodness, renews every day, the very act of Creation. As even the lowly rooster can intuit, we can ponder and analyze and inspire ourselves with the reality that today is not yesterday, but was re-created by the Almighty, full of fresh potential and fresh opportunities to do better than we did in the past.
I often wonder why we’re told to recite the words, “Modeh (ah) Ani L’Fanecha“, “I am filled with gratitude before You|, every morning before we even get out of bed. Why are we so thankful for yet another day if it may be filled with the same disappointments, frustrations and failures of yesterday? If life is a zero-sum game, who really wants to play it anymore?
But, before we fall into despair, we can fall into hope, with the confidence that difficult as it might be, we can, each of us, make today and tomorrow much better than we even fantasized possible just yesterday.
Remember that in the beginning of this essay I said that Tefilla is badly mis-translated as “Prayer”. The root of Tefilla the Hebrew letters פל, Peh Lamed, really means falling. The choice is ours to fall into despair or to fall into hope.