hazzan Diana Brewer was ordained through the aleph ordination program. she leads prayer services regularly at the jewish community of amherst, and is on the staff of the davvenen leadership training institute.

Prayers of our Fathers: An Argument for Kavannah

What do we learn from these times of prayer as established by our ancestors? In these stories, times and content of the prayers are not commanded.  These are spontaneous times of reaching out, motivated by a variety of circumstances. Avaraham's prayer is motivated by compassion for others, and a need to experience HaSham as a just and fair actor. We also see in his return to his meeting place with G8d, a desire to build and maintain a relationship, even in the face of disappointment. Yitzhak's, one imagines, is a need to find a container big enough to to hold all the many things that have been weighing on his heart. He seeks respite from grief and lonliness. Ya'akov almost stumbles into a relationship with G8d, bumping into a holy place where he receives the revelation that he is no longer alone. He seeks refuge, and he gives thanks.

Some readers will be familiar with the ideas of Keva and Kavannah. Some will not be, so I'll give a brief explanation. Keva refers to fixed, prescribed elements or worship. Kavannah refers to intention behind and within the worship. Where is your heart? What motivates you? Are you present with your prayer? Are you here because IT'S TIME or because you were moved to reach out for divine connection?

There is an ongoing conversation around the place and merits of these elements in worship life - a conversation in ourselves, between clergy, between many who participate in any sort of spiritual practice. While these stories play a part in the development of the Keva around thrice-daily prayer - we seek to emulate our ancestors as we aspire to connection with the Source of all Blessing - in the stories themselves, we see pure Kavannah. These three had needs that arose. They happen to come to each one at a different time of day. They acted spontaneously according to the urgings of their hearts, and their hearts seem to have held very different contents.   Their prayers are all answered in different ways, but they are surely answered. G8d has heard and responded to these spontaneous outcries. Clearly, Kavannah holds an important place in the life of worship, and of building a connection with the Divine Presence.

Stay tuned for the case for Keva... 

The Prayers of our Fathers: Prayers and Answers (an aside)

תפלות אבות תקנומ The Prayers of our Fathers (Part 3: Things that go BUMP in the night)