Recently the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), together with Koren Publishers, released a new prayer book titled Siddur Avodat Halev, the third time the RCA has published a siddur under its name.
What makes this volume so unique is its methodology. The translation of the Hebrew text is based upon the original Rabbi David De Sola Pool edition of 1960. The Siddur text appears in a clear modern font, and the commentaries and essays are from a wide range of rabbis and scholars associated with the RCA, 2018.
Among the essays featured in this volume is one by Rebbetzin Rookie Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere, where her husband, Rabbi Heshie Billet, has been the rabbi for close to 40 years. Rebbetzin Billet has an enviable career in spiritual service to our community. Currently, she is the principal of the Shulamith Middle School and was previously at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School, SKA, and Central. Since 1980, she has served the Young Israel of Woodmere as a kallah teacher, yoetzet halacha, public lecturer and mentor.
The excerpt that follows is from Rebbetzin Billet’s essay in the new siddur, and is titled “Concrete Steps To Find More inspiration From Prayer.”
We each must seek to find our unique way to make our tefilla experience more personal and inspirational. These might include: Choosing a siddur that works for you. Choose one with a better translation, or an interlinear translation, or an inspirational commentary.
When using the siddur during the week, make your own notes in pencil in the margin of your siddur. Think of something that uplifts you that relates to a particular paragraph in the service. Study the prayers when you are not praying so you can better understand the words when you do pray. Like the Hasidim of old, prepare for engagement with G-d with study, with introspection, with an uplifting story, with a beautiful nigun. Dress as if you are going to meet royalty. Wash your hands.
Close your eyes; visualize yourself as an integral and everlasting part of the Jewish people. Concentrate on the One before Whom you stand. Set goals to reach even higher levels of intensity in prayer. Make yourself vulnerable: imagine yourself yet again in the fragile situation in which you did feel moved to pray powerfully.
When praying with others, see your prayer not only as a commandment between man and G-d, but also as an interpersonal mitzva, since our sincerity at prayer can contribute to a better ambience for everyone else’s tefilla and inspire others as well. Make a careful list of all the people in your life and community who need G-d’s help and concentrate on their needs when you pray.
Many women find particular meaning in praying Kabbalat Shabbat with their daughters if they are not going to the synagogue on Friday nights. Make your tefilla time sacred and do not relinquish it no matter how pressed you are for time. Feel as if the welfare of the entire community depends on your passionate prayer.
Take pride in your ability to balance the humility required to acknowledge our dependence on G-d with the confidence required to address Him directly and personally, with a deep understanding of the myriad needs and complex solutions required to help us mortals confront the challenges of everyday life in an ever-more challenging world.
Prayer then, is a multifaceted halakhic event as well as a very personal, challenging religious experience. It is objective and subjective, both bounded by parameters and flexible at the same time.
R. Soloveitchik once observed that the beit knesset is the home of the collective prayers of Knesset Yisrael. Perhaps that is precisely what the prayer experience is — a blending of the thought and experience of the timeless efforts of the Jewish people to communicate with G-d, and an opportunity for Him to hear the harmony of the voices of His children.