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The Siddur/Prayer Book

Friday, 5 July, 2019 - 2:23 pm

It is June 6, 1944, exactly 75 years ago. Picture yourself a Jewish soldier in the US, thousands of your brothers and sisters are dying every day. You are about to board a plane or a boat, to parachute straight into enemy territory or jump into the ice-cold water of the atlantic making your way to the shore, about to take on one of the most terrifying forces ever.

What is the one book Jewish soldiers carried with them into war? The Chumash? A book of the Prophets, or the Talmud or Halacha? No. They carried the Siddur among with their Tefillin. 

Thousands died that day as well, but a turning point was reached.  

Today there is a Chabad house on the blood-soaked beaches of Normandy, teaching and educating and bringing a full Jewish experience to their visitors. 

One of the items they show to the tourists is a Siddur that was found further inland, in the rubble of a hospital. 

They say that two pages in the Siddur were marked, one for the ‘Traveler’s Prayer’ the other one for Havdalah, marking the end of Shabbat. 

The instructions for the Traveler’s prayer, said every morning while one is one move, indicate to be sure to always end it with the words: “Blessed are You who hears prayer.”

To remind yourself that even in the deepest darkness, we are still heard and guided.

Also we know that the Jewish soldier was still trying to keep the Shabbat, to be sure to make a distinction between the holy and the profane. 

Going back in time a little: Before the Babylonian exile the Jewish People didn’t need a Siddur. Prayer came naturally to our forefathers and was passed on from Generation to Generation. Special prayers and offerings were brought to the Temple in a specific order, to have a clear way for every Jewish person to connect themselves to Hashem, to internalize the Mitzvot and the Torah.

When the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were dispersed among different people with different languages and customs the Sages and Prophets, the Men of the Great Assembly, decided it would be best to write down the prayers, so that future generations would be able to continue the same prayers as our forefathers did, that even in the darkest hours of the Exile they would keep fast to their traditions and maintain their closeness and connection to G-d. 

What is it that Jewish high school students with a very minimal Jewish education could truly benefit from, before going out into the world? 

We are still in Exile and very much in need to guidance. Some high school students may go on and become Torah scholars, others will go on to work and raise families. 

Teaching the SIddur isn’t just about learning how to read and say the prayers.

To appreciate it fully, the way of teaching it would include the history of prayer, the Kabbalah of the twelve gates and nuschaot, the thirteenth gate for all the Jewish people on which the latest Siddur is based, to study the origins and inner meanings of each prayer and custom, especially the latest version of the Siddur first published by Rabbi Scheur Zalman of Liadi that was intended as a prayer book for all, including many of the Laws and customs culled from the Shulchan Aruch, Torah readings, Selichos etc.

For example, just saying the order of the Korbanot/Offerings wouldn’t give a student a deeper understanding of why they are there and what they mean for us today. 

To understand what this means would include the insights of the Rebbe, on how “Our Sages teach that while we are in exile, “the prayers were established in place of the daily offerings.” ‘Korban,’ offering, shares the same Hebrew root as ‘Kiruv,’ closeness. The purpose of an offering is, that through it, we become closer to G-d. True closeness to G-d can be achieved when our prayers, like the Burnt Offering, are in order to connect with G-d, not for personal gain.”

To be able to truly understand the Siddur is being able to use it as a vehicle for connection and closeness to Hashem and each other, and a deeper understanding of our mission of letting Hashem’s light shine upon us forever so that ‘His way be known on Earth, His Salvation among all Nations”. It can help students not just in their own lives, but help them do their part to bring redemption, even through the deepest darkness. 

By Hadassah Rest 

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