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What does the prayer that you're saying mean (to you)?

Posted on 05/03/2013 @ 12:38 PM

As part of my work in BBYO’s PDI program, I have had the opportunity to look at the ways prayer is approached in a variety of pluralistic educational settings. My research indicates that our teens sometimes know the “what” in prayer, but rarely know the “why” in prayer. They might know how to recite a prayer, but rarely do they know what that prayer means. The same may be true for many of our staff, advisors and other adult partners.

So let’s take a look at one of our central prayers – the Ve’Ahavta (Deuteronomy 6:4-9): “You should love Hashem your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Set these words which I command you this day upon your heart. Teach them diligently to your children, and speak of them when you sit in your home and when you walk on the way, when you go to sleep and when you wake up. Bind them as a sign upon your hand, and let them serve as a reminder between your eyes. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and gates.”

Have you ever paused to think about this prayer?
• What is love? (And especially, what is love of G-d and how does a person love G-d?)
• Can love be commanded?
• Why is it important for “these words” to be in all of these places and at all of these times?

Next time your teens are preparing to recite the Ve’Ahavta in services, encourage them to deepen the explanation and content around their prayer experience. With a little guidance – and some curiosity – teens can craft content-rich and creative services and programs that align well with the meaning of the prayers.

You might also consider taking this focus on prayer further by turning study into action:
• Some recite the Shema before bedtime with their children – and fulfill “when you go to sleep” and “teach them diligently to your children” simultaneously. Consider inviting teen participants on conventions or summer experiences to create a meaningful practice through reciting the Bedtime Shema in small groups together before lights out.
• Some wrap tefillin in order to fulfill the mitzvah to “bind them as a sign.” Consider offering tefillin wrapping during optional weekday morning minyan on convention and summer experiences. (Tefillin are called “a sign” and Shabbat is referred to as “a sign” [see V’Shamru] – so tefillin are not worn on Shabbat because we only need one “sign.”)
• Ever wonder where the idea of the mezuzah comes from? It comes from right here! Consider decorating mezuzot during services based on the content of this prayer.

On the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, zman matan torateinu (the time of the giving of our Torah), we celebrate the learning that is central to Jewish life. Let’s bring this learning into our programs and conventions throughout the year. Let’s imagine and build a Jewish community where teen leaders and participants are motivated to dive deeper into the meaning of the prayers and rituals. And let’s work together to provide more learning opportunities for our teens, our communities, and ourselves!

(What is the meaning of this Shabbat Message written by Ira J. Dounn, Director of Jewish Enrichment of the Northeast Hub?)

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