A Three-Part Strategy For Successful Davening During The Yomim Noraim
Despite the complaints of other people in shul that the Rosh Hashana davening was too long this year, I felt as if the davening went by extremely quickly. I think I have finally discovered a successful three-part strategy that allowed me to get the most out of davening for Rosh Hashana.
1. Seat choice: While you may not be able to dictate the seat assignments for all of the people surrounding you, sitting next to other people who are focused and do not talk to their neighbors is extremely important. Unless you already have a set seat, find a seat next to someone you don't know, or rarely speak to, so you will not be tempted to talk during the service. The people who sit around you may help lift you up during davening or prevent you from putting your all into it. This year my seat assignment was next to the same quiet older man that I sat next to last Rosh Hashana. Although we wish each other "Shana tova" before and after davening, we do not speak at all during the service. He is the perfect neighbor and I wish he had twin brothers with similar temperaments who could sit in all the chairs around me.
2. Focus only on the Machzor: I discovered that the single most important technique for me was not to look up from my machzor unless I really had to. This prevented me from getting distracted or looking at a person who annoyed me with less than a "good eye". At times when I felt that I was losing interest in the service, I would ask Hashem in my own words to help me to concrete and remember the great importance of Rosh Hashana. In this way, I interspersed the entire Rosh Hashana davening with hisbodedus; making it all the more meaningful to me.
3. Closing one's eyes: At times such as the blowing of the shofar and the repetition of the Amida, I closed my eyes to allow the sounds to resonate deeper. Hearing the sound of the shofar blown with my eyes closed was a completely different experience than hearing it with my eyes open. The awe-inspiring words of U'nesaneh Tokef even increased in their intensity. Blocking out the sight of people impatiently fidgeting during the chazzan's repetition of the Amida made it easier for me to remain focused and to allow the words to enter my heart.
This three-part strategy helped me immensely during Rosh Hashana and I plan to follow this strategy again for Yom Kippur.