A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Prayer
By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2012, 218 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - December 19, 2012
This book is about "Davening," the Yiddish word for prayer.
Even people who insist that prayer is an intellectual process rather than an emotional, spiritual, and religious experience, as demonstrated by Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi in this book, will enjoy reading his book. Also, even non-Jews will enjoy and benefit from the rabbi's views. Why?
First, the book is a delight to read. The rabbi tells stories on virtually every page, about himself, Chabad Chasidim, and clever and thought provoking parables. Among many other things, the rabbi tells about kavanah, praying with focus, intention, and meaning. He shows how to pray from the heart, rather than from the mind. Celebrating the Sabbath or holiday with kavanah, for example, gives the day a richer meaning.
He speaks also about the niggun, the melody, the wordless prayer, tunes Hasidim sing to get closer to God. Some have words and some do not. He tells how he used a niggun to get in the mood for prayer and how once he came so close to God by singing a niggun that he felt no need to continue with the formal prayers.
He tells about the mystical notion of God and how prayer fits into this notion. He gives readers "a traveler's guide" through the prayers, during which he describes many prayers and shows readers their inner meaning. He also tells how people can feel "at home in Shul," what they should do to feel what they are experiencing and how to get the most out of the experience.