Review of
Rigshei Lev
by Rabbi Menachem Nissel
A book review by Rebbitzen Tzipporah Heller

Nothing is more natural than the link of woman to prayer. In the last several decades, however, the natural spiritual expression, tefillah, that women since Chana have made their own, has become a subject of controversy. In some circles prayer for women is seen as peripheral. The reason for this may be the fact that few women are able to make the time in the morning to focus on the entire order of the shacharis service. This has led to the never-ending search for a way to daven that can achieve its purpose, genuine communication with Hashem in a minimal time. The well-intended stress on making tefillah more possible while simultaneously minimizing the time commitment that it demands has created a Frankenstein monster. Tefillah is perceived as a burdensome addition to an already hectic schedule, rather than a means of gaining the spiritual nurture that can give meaning and focus to one's life or at least one's day. Women are deprived of what they need the most, by minimizing its significance and benefit.

The other extreme is found among the circle of women whose desire to have a meaningful relationship with G-d is incompatible with the fact that He created them as women. Their approach to prayer (and to many other religious issues) is to adapt the masculine model as their own because the feminine model seems to be a pale imitation of "the real thing".

What this book will do for both groups is to open both their minds and hearts to what the "real thing" actually is, and how it can be brought meaningfully into any life or lifestyle.

Rabbi Nissel has given us profound insight into what the true nature of women's prayer is. In the first part of his book, he takes us through a philosophic journey in which the way that women have historically encountered G-d is explored. Wonder of wonders, he manages this formidable task while remaining lucid and easy to follow. A quick glance at some of the most significant paragraphs give us insight into the depth and authenticity of his thought, and the clarity of his presentation.

We can now understand the natural affinity that women have for prayer. Let us remind ourselves how we described the opening scene of Adam HaRishon's existence. Adam, who at the moment of creation was both male and female in one body, is made from adamah. He understands that he must justify his existence by bringing out the potential of the adamah, both the adamah from which he was created and the adamah of the world he was placed in. He recognizes that he is created deficient for this purpose. Instinctively, he looks heavenward and prays. The moment of prayer is the moment he understands that while he must bring out the potential of the adamah, he is totally dependent on the hashpaah (influence) of shamayim.

Let us also remind ourselves how we described the natural role of a woman. A woman is parallel to adamah, a nurturing and nourishing home for the hashpaah of shamayim, which facilitates the creation of life. She, too, is created deficient for her purpose and is dependent on the hashpaah of a man to bring out her potential.

What happens when we combine the two concepts? We see that the role of the adamah from its very conception is contingent on prayer. Since the essence of a woman is adamah, her role, too, is dependent on prayer.

Chazal take this idea one stage further. They tell us that a woman is not only dependent on prayer, but on a mystical level these concepts fuse into a whole: women, adamah, and tefillah are by nature one. At the deepest level, women daven naturally because tefillah is their essence.

It comes as no surprise that a woman and not a man uttered the quintessential prayer. Chana, like the Imahos before her, had perfected the female role as Hashem had intended in creation. She expressed her innermost needs as a woman through prayer. Her prayers became the basis for many of the fundamental halachos of tefillah. And her prayers became the inspiration for generations of women, including many of our mothers and grandmothers.

The second part of the book takes us through the laws of prayer as they relate to women. Everything is presented in a cogent and practical way. At the same time it is comprehensive enough to cover almost any situation. Rabbi Nissel presents us with the halachic rulings of Rav Scheinberg, shlita, and offers other opinions of additional halachic descisors as well. In order to avoid confusion, these opinions are preceded with the words "Some poskim." For the benefit of Torah scholars who will no doubt make use of this work, there are Hebrew footnotes that include the sources and reasons behind the halachos under discussion. Typical of the thoroughness that Rabbi Nissel brought to his sefer is the fact that he included two chapters addressing the halachic differences that apply to those who use nusach Sefardi or nusach Sefard - Chasidi. In what I found to be a virtually unprecedented act of dedication to seeing that every question and answer is understood, and that any new information is given the proper credence, the author actually provides the reader with his e-mail!

Prayer can be transformational. The insights and information provided in this book can change the inner lives of the many women and girls who read it.

Printed in HaModia.