Tachanun: The Story Of A Prayer That We Will Try To Skip

In just a few days, we’ll be back to saying tachanun. 

I hear myself groan. 

What is it about tachanun that we all try to get out of saying it?

We drag in new grooms so we can get out of it.*

We hope there’s a bris in shul so we can skip it.* 


What’s going on here? 

What can we do with our avoidance?

Tachanun for sure deserves a bit of respect. 

The Rambam (Hilchot Tefilla 5:11-13) tells us that following the recitation of the Amida, we are to kneel and then prostrate on the ground as we offer personal prayers to God. 

The Tur (Orach Chaim 131) fills in some of the ‘why’ to this: by standing, bowing, kneeling, and falling to the ground we mimic all of the poses used by Moses in his dialogue with God. 

Of course, nowadays we do none of this.

Due to secondary concerns, nowadays we ‘make do’ with leaning on our left arm. 

These personal prayers have evolved into the standardized text which varies from community to community. 

So sure, tachanun deserves some respect. 

But why is it so hard for us?

Obviously, a lot has to do with the fact that most of us are very much in a ‘just let’s get it over with’ mindset. 

We have jobs to get to, errands to run, and a to-do list up the wazoo. 

All good. 

Our default position then is that anything that shaves off a minute here is welcome. 

So bring in the groom and have the bris. 

But to me, it’s not just about the extra minute of saying tachanun that weighs on us. 

Maybe it’s those heavy declarations which weigh heavily. 

I’m nusach Ashkenaz and my tachanun begins with ‘And David said to Gad; I am suffering greatly’.

My nusach Sefard friends start their tachanun with, ‘please Hashem, I have sinned’.

Neither nusach brings a positive, feel-good vibe. 

Who wants to get wrapped up in such negativity?

So off we go. 

Totally understandable. 

Personally though I cannot make peace with that attitude. 

If I’m going to have something as sacred as tachanun in my siddur then I expect myself to not just say it but to say it with the respect it deserves. 

This is how I lean into tachanun:

Yes; tachanun is hard. 

It really is a speed bump on the way to the rest of the day. 

But I need a speed bump. 

Maybe in my running off to some errand or ‘whatever’ important task I’ve got going on, I’m gonna forget something vital to my success. 

Tachanun reminds me that I can succeed and enjoy my life by letting Hashem be the Boss. 

Yes; I am suffering. 

Yes; I am full of doubts. 

Yes; I am full of misconceptions and hopes and dreams and in all honesty I have no real idea if what I want and what I think is worth my energies. 

When I fall to the ground-well, now I just fall on my arm-I‘m surrendering to Hashem and His wisdom. 

In the humility of kneeling before Him, He becomes not just my Boss but my collaborator and guide. 

And that’s when the magic begins. 

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