Our sages teach us in the Sifri that there are ten different words used for prayer. Each one of the words has a different meaning and nuance. I find it fascinating that the word we use most often for prayer is Davening. Davening is NOT one of the ten words listed to refer to prayer. So where does it come from and what does it mean?
The sefer/book Taamei Haminhagim-Reasons for Our Customs compiled by Rav Avraham Yitzchak Sperling of Lvov discusses this query. He explains in the name of the Maggid Taalumah that the word Davening is actually a hybrid of the two words D’avot Inun which is Aramaic for These emanate from our Patriarchs. When you put together the two words and say them as one phrase – out comes Davening.
Besides understanding the history and etymology of the word Davening, this lesson reminds us to reflect upon something much more significant. It reminds us that every time we open our prayer books, our hearts and our lips in prayer we are launching the same prayers that our ancestors bequeathed to us from 5000 years ago. The Talmud is straightforward in its conclusion that our prayers were designed by the Patriarchs and mirror the different major sacrifices that went on each day in the Holy Temple.
Many of us treasure a family heirloom i.e. an old watch, Kiddush cup or serving plate. Others hold dear the special tunes they sing at the Shabbat and Yom Tov tables. But all of us – every single Jew that Davens is using the National Family Jewels which we have inherited through the generations. We should treasure this gift and use it well.
The Talmud Brachot expresses poignantly that Tefilla/Prayer is of the holiest endeavors that reaches the heavens yet is disrespected by the masses.
The architect of Shacharit is our father Abraham that we meet this week in Parshat Lech-Lecha. The great leader that passed all the tests he encountered and transmitted the truth to his descendents.
We are the children of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs and should treasure the heritage they have created and left for us – part of that heritage is Davening – D’avot Inun. May all of our prayers be answered.
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein