Play Better... Pray Better!

Tefilla from the Heart

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How did this all get started?

Written By: Sarah Rosenbaum, Instructor/Creator of Tefilla from the Heart course.

             When I started becoming more religiously observant, in 2004, one of the new main ingredients I was figuring out how to implement in my life was Tefilla. This started after one life-changing class I attended on the subject, taught by Rabbi Yaakov Bear at Neve Yerushalayim in Jerusalem. It was an hour of inspiration, which culminated with, to paraphrase, "Pray as if your life depended on it...because it does." On that very day, I started davening the Amidah regularly, and ever since that day I have tried to keep his words in mind and make them my reality.

               This new element in my life was envigorating, exhilirating, and through it, I was able to experience incredible things -- what some might prefer to call "coincidences" -- but I also faced challenges: How can I stay connected during prayer? How can I pray when I'm tired, in a hurry, or just don't quite feel like it yet? Why can't Mincha be later in the winter, to give me some more time to "get around" to it? How can I pray the same words practically every day, and keep it fresh, alive, a true relationship with Our Creator? How can I possibly pray in a way that is befitting, given all the amazing things Hashem has blessed me with?

            Since then, I learned that I am not the only one who has grappled with such questions and challenges. I attended lectures, read articles, and began studying books on this subject. They were definitely informative and inspiring and very helpful regarding many of these challenges and I am so grateful for the wisdom that I gained and for the opportunities to learn from so many wise people, both contemporary and foundational.

          In my personal journey, however, there was another element, based on my personal experiences, which I believe are not quite as universal, but that I noticed helped me tremendously in my ability to actualize the teachings I had been studying, to bring the theory to life, to fruition.

            Before I became more observant, I was making my living as an actress, mostly on television, but also via voiceover work, such as radio ads and voicing animated characters. When I began taking on more halachic practices, I found that regarding Tefilla, in particular, I started noticing how my experiences as an actress kept popping into my head, before or during davening, to help me through whatever challenge I was facing -- I did not notice this connection in any other area to the overwhelming extent that I did regarding Tefilla.

            When I started noticing this pattern, after having been observant for several years, I decided one day to try to write down these connections, to see how many I could remember. They filled an entire page, in one sitting. They flowed so freely, even I was shocked at how many little "tidbits" of similarity I noticed between the two!

           Soon after, I took the concepts I had written on that page and divided them into several sections. Before I knew it, I had an outline for a 12-week course! (which I have since modified to 8- and 10- week sessions). At this point, I contacted the esteemed Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller, told her about my ideas, and asked if she would help me, which she graciously and generously did, and for which I am infinitely grateful to her. I consulted her throughout the process until I had a course that she also felt was worthwhile, filled with valuable content, and enriched with specific Kavannot for certain major prayers, learned from the book she had recommended I use for this purpose, titled, As For Me, My Prayer (out of print).

             And so, this class was born. I am so very grateful to all the many people who helped to bring it to life and to light, and I very much hope I can share these insights with you, and help you understand this unique experiential journey, in the hopes that you will also be able to benefit from the knowledge I gleaned from my life experiences, as they have informed the many wonderful teachings I have been blessed to have learned.

             Do I still have challenges? Of course! The journey is not over, and I don't think it is supposed to be, as long as we are alive in this world. Just like every relationship, our relationship with Hashem must be worked on consistently in order to make sure it's in top shape. As humans, we will tend to have lots of ups and downs along the way; however, sincere efforts and quality time put into the task -- with a real desire to improve as the fuel for your actions -- are worth a lot.

            Wishing you boundless blessings on your journey, wherever life takes you!