Recently, Rivkah and I went to have a passport picture taken for the baby. At the store, we found the person who takes pictures and asked to have pictures taken of our son. She smiled and said, “I have never done pictures of a small child before, but let’s try.” After a few attempts we were still unsuccessful (because my hands were showing in all the pictures). The photo clerk apologized and suggested that we try another branch where they have more experience…
An interesting idea struck me with this encounter. A certain amount of experience in one’s field is necessary in order for one’s job to run smoothly.
This led me to think of prayer. Judaism has instituted prayers three times each day (more on Shabbat and holidays). But when a person prays on a daily basis, like any action that is done daily, there is an inherent risk of it losing its vitality and becoming rote. For example, a person who loves cooking and opens a restaurant runs the risk of losing the inspiration when it becomes the same tedious job, day after day.
However, paralleling the photographer with experience, there is still a valid reason to pray numerous times daily: through this practice one may reach a level of proficiency that can enable a very high quality prayer. Once we are accustomed to praying, we know exactly what to expect in the service, and can use that expertise to focus intently on the words and their meanings while praying. Like an expert cabinet maker knows exactly how a particular wood will react and is therefore able to create masterpieces. The proficiency that comes with experience is invaluable. But it is important to work on retaining the freshness of one’s prayers, in order to maximize spiritual growth.
But how? One way of avoiding the pitfalls of memorized prayers, is to think hard before praying about what it is that one is about to do. Realizing the importance of communicating with Hashem is key.