Monday, June 25, 2007

Question & Answer With Bob Miller - Second Person vs. Third Person

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

To what extent do you think that the troubles we have maintaining kavana davening originate in the fact that many of the tefillos in our siddur are written in a manner in which they refer to Hashem in the third-person? Since davening is avoda she'b'lev (a duty of the heart) and quite simply connecting to Hashem by speaking to him, it is only natural that we may feel a certain closeness and relate more to those tefillos in which we address Hashem as "You", since it is clear that we were speaking directly to Him. Perhaps this is what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov referred to in Sichos HaRan #75 in which he taught that, "perfect prayer is the plain meaning of such words as Baruch Atah Hashem. "

Bob Miller answers:

It seems that the davening has two main components, (1) speaking to HaShem, and (2) reflecting on HaShem's deeds and the state of our relationship with HaShem. It's possible to think of (1) as fitting the direct conversation of the "You" mode, and (2) as fitting the meditation or introspection of the "He" mode.

Since each is important and essential, I can't see how not to want to do both.

The danger in (2) is that, when we do it, we're more likely to follow our streams of consciousness clear off the siddur page and into daydreams or other extraneous thoughts, unless we make a strong effort to keep our minds in gear. I'm personally challenged by this!

I think you and readers of your blog could find Torah sources, including Chassidic sources, discussing both aspects of davening.

The phenomenon of cellphones ringing during public davening points to a lack of appreciation that davening is part of our "quality time" with HaShem. Even when the phone does not go off, the person who intentionally leaves it on is signaling his partial, rather than total, commitment during this time. I doubt that someone meeting with a President or Prime Minister would make this error. And we know they don't deliver but HaShem does!


At June 25, 2007 at 3:10:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for a very clear explanation. I posted on this question in

At June 26, 2007 at 12:03:00 AM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great answer, Bob. It could be that the second mode is more fitting for hisbodedus. Davening, as a structured avodah is, ironically, structured so we stay fairly focused.

At June 26, 2007 at 8:07:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

There is some degree of hisbodedus built into the davening, too.

I aspire to staying as focused as I should, but it takes work.


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