Rabbi, I was wondering about our prayers. What’s with all the praises of G-d? It seems like we say a lot of similar stuff in different ways, over and over. I’ve always been taught that because G-d is infinite, He doesn’t need our praises. Instead, the praises we say are for us; somehow it helps us when we keep praising G-d. I don’t get that concept. How does it help us to say the same praises about G-d every day? I mean, don’t we get it already? G-d is great, it’s great to be close to Him, He is all powerful, mighty, eternal, and incredible, He makes everything happen, etc.
Why all the repetition?
I don’t go shopping too often, but when I do, I can’t help but hear the lyrics of the background music playing in stores. The same is true when I go on outings anywhere. I noticed that the overwhelming majority of those songs are about love and attraction. I gotta tell you – after hearing just a few songs, I can’t help wondering – don’t we get it already? I feel like saying to the singers, “Okay, fine, so you’re excited for tonight, you can’t wait to be with her, she makes you feel great, life is incomplete without her, you don’t know how you made it without her until now, her love is the best, etc., etc. We heard you loud and clear! Now let’s move on and sing about something else.” But they never do. It’s the same theme over and over. And if it’s not about excitement about love, it’s about the heartbreak of the breakup, the misery of being without that love, or the arrogant insistence of the singer that he/she couldn’t care less that the other person broke up with them, and that they’re ten times better off without him/her. (If they were really so okay without the relationship, why sing about it at all? Just move on...)
There is obviously a very powerful drive to achieve connection with someone/something beyond ourselves, which helps us transcend the monotony of daily life.
One core difference between the songs the world sings and the songs of davening that we sing is rooted in where we turn to for that feeling of connection. They sing about that person who makes them feel whole and energetic and makes life exciting. Apparently, there is a thrill to express one’s excitement even in the mere searching and waiting for that “love” (which is actually lust).
The problem is that no person can be the source of someone else’s excitement for any length of time. As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. The rush they are singing about and searching for is elusive and fleeting and will invariably leave them feeling empty and frustrated.
When we sing of G-d’s greatness, on the other hand, it reminds us that fulfillment and inner tranquility is to be found in connection with the infinite. There is deep joy felt when we recognize that we have the privilege to sing about the infinite G-d with whom we share a personal and unique relationship. It’s as if we are reminding ourselves of Whom we are about to pray to, and what an incredible privilege that is.
I will admit that when I was your age, I had a hard time relating to davening and appreciating all those praises. But as I have gotten older, I can honestly say that I enjoy davening. (I definitely have my days when I’m tired and not in the mood and have to push myself to say the words. But most days I enjoy the experience.) I enjoy reciting praises of G-d and reminding myself that I have a direct and permanent line to the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, no matter what spiritual level I am on.
That really is a relationship worth singing about and yearning for. Like all valuable things in life, it entails an investment of effort to develop an appreciation for it. I hope you attain that level where you recognize that the question you asked is not even a question.1
1 - Toras Avigdor, an organization that disseminates the Torah thoughts of Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt”l, sends out daily emails that contain questions posed to Rabbi Miller and his verbatim answers. This week, there was a question about the effect of music. Following is part of his answer:
“Music, when utilized for musar and avodas Hashem, is an excellent expedient. That’s why David HaMelech, when the spirit moved him, took out his harp and the harp helped him begin to ascend on the wings of music to the heights of perfection of the soul.
“But when music is used for “your eyes” and “your lips” and your this and your that and how I miss you, and all the rest of the garbage, the Kuzari says that means that the music that once was used for the service of HaKadosh Baruch Hu has now become the play thing of the maidservants and the boys in the street. The Kuzari said that almost a thousand years ago. And it has deteriorated since then. Originally, however, there’s no question that music was intended to assist in the elevation of the spirit.”
By R' Dani Staum