Ger Tzadik (Sorta)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Speed III: Self-Destructing Shul - Staring Keanu Reeves

Attending your first weekday minyan, it’s hard not to get the feeling that there is an unnatural urgency to praying. If the pace of prayer drops below 550 words per minute, the whole place will go up! Since the last post was a wonderfully fun exercise in list making, it seems like as good a time as any to do another. After careful analysis, it has become obvious that there are many distinct stages in the process of learning how to daven “properly”. The time it takes to transition between them depends on how quick a learner you are, how easily you adapt to reading Hebrew, and how quickly you can memorize things. Let’s examine the stages now:

  1. Totally Clueless – You walk in, pick up a siddur, open it up, and….feel utter despair like never before in your life, because you have no idea what’s going on. This can be helped only with a beginners minyan essentially.

  2. Big Events – You can now identify big parts of the services easily. Shema (“Hey, it’s in bold, and everyone is saying ‘SHEMA’ loudly!”) The Silent Amidah (“Whoa, everyone got quiet and is shaking back and forth.”) The Torah Reading. (“Check it out! Torah!”)

  3. Sing Along – You now can keep up with most of the singing parts, as long as they don’t go too fast. The silent parts seem to happen at an unbelievable pace though. You think to yourself that everyone has to be faking it. Following the full flow of the service is much easier now.

  4. Important Hebrew Parts – Now you finally do the big prayers in Hebrew. The Shema, the Amidah, bits of other parts of the service. You still struggle to keep up, and have to cut some parts to stay with the minyan, but you get there. You still spend most of your time in English though. Pesukei D’zimra and Tachnun still seem to go faster than you can believe is humanly possible.

  5. Full Hebrew, Half Speed – Now you can do everything in Hebrew. Just not as fast as your average weekday minyan. Plus, your kevanah probably isn’t what it could be if you didn’t have to concentrate so much on just getting the right words out.

  6. Full Hebrew, Full Speed – You can now blaze through the entire service, finishing ahead of others sometimes, and have proper kevanah since you are comfortable with everything you are doing. (Note: Since I am not here yet, I still think this level is fictional and you folks are pretending. I do that to preserve my fragile ego.)

There are probably substages that could be identified, but that would require work…so nevermind. If pressed, I would put myself somewhere between stages 3 and 4 right now. Singing has helped tremendously in terms of remembering certain sections. It’s much easier to remember Lecha Dodi, Shema, and Aleinu when you have a tune or cadence in your head for them. Once they’re there, you can speed up and slow down the tune as needed.

The silent parts are a little harder. The tactic for the Amidah, as suggested by a rabbi, is to take one blessing at a time, do it in Hebrew over and over again until you’re almost doing it by heart, then move on to another one. Of course, this means you’re doing the rest of it in English or your native language, but small steps first. When you recite the same prayer 3 times a day, 6 days a week, it’s amazing how fast you begin to memorize the Hebrew, even if you don’t really understand all of it.

The parts that are still entirely lost on me are the Pesukei D’zimra, Ashrei, and Tachnun. It just goes WAY too fast to even have a prayer. (Oy. I typed that one out before the double meaning hit me. Now I can’t change it…too painful, must share.) I am looking for ways to get some more parts of those into my head other than just pounding it into my head repeatedly.

The best way to get better is repeated practice of course, but I am looking for suggestions and tips here. Anyone have their own little personal tricks that let them get into the groove of davening more quickly? I’ve been searching (unsuccessfully) for recordings on the web of parts of the liturgy that can be sung, since it has helped so much to date, even just in my head. An archive, CD, or anything of that sort would be greatly appreciated.

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