Monday, June 10, 2013

Who Knows Prayer?

I wanted to share with the readers a solid website called Mi Yodeya - a question and answer site for those that base their "lives on Jewish values and tradition".  Seems to me to be an honest space to ask and share interesting information.

For example a question was asked, "How can we have better kavannah in tefilla? Specifically Tachnuneem?"

The replies were as follows:
How does one have better Kavanah in his Tachnuneem in tefilla? Does he punch his chest harder? Maybe start bawling?
  • I would suggest focusing on the meaning of the words, as opposed to inflicting physical pain. 
  • Chest punching and/or bawling may or may not be effects of better Kavanah, but they aren't causes of it. 
 What advice do the sages give for improving one's concentration in prayer?
Following up on Isaac's question seeking experience-based advice to improve his prayer:, I am seeking something a bit different. I remember reading some advice on the subject given (I think) by Rav Schach, zt'l, that one should from time to time use a different siddur in order to force himself to go through the siddur word for word and concentrate on what he is reading. Can someone point me to published suggestions by other gedolim?
Rabbi Weinberger of Aish Kodesh, speaks at length quite often on the topic of prayer. Most recently, I have been re-listening to his shiurim on Bilvavi Mishkan Evenah. It has reminded me that kavanah does not simply start with the actual act of prayer, it is a life-long quest to continually remind ourselves that Yesh Bo're Olam, there is a Creator of the world, yitbarakh shemo. 
Over the past few days, since I started reviewing Rav Weinberger's shiurim, I have found it quite helpful to remind myself during prayer that every single moment is an act of creation and Hashem Yitbarakh is continually involved with every single moment of existence. Literally, that very moment at which I said the Shema, Hashem Yitbarakh was creating my lungs, lips and brain such that I could utter the words in this physical world. As the Ba'al HaTanya reminds us, "Hashem is very near to you." 
In addition, I once heard by the Gerrer Hasidim a common meditation in prayer was to picture oneself standing before the throne of Hashem Yitbarakh while praying. You literally try to picture yourself standing at the the feet of a massive, universe encompassing throne. You continually remind yourself that you are in fact always standing before Hashem Yitbarakh.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov has an enormous amount to say about this topic. Many of the paragraphs in the chapter on prayer in Likutei Eitzos relate to concentration in prayer:
Some further selections, from Sichos HaRan and other sources, are collected here (The Essential Rabbi Nachman, edited by R' AvrahamGreenbaum):
To summarize briefly, here are some of his pieces of advice:
1) focus on the simple meaning of the words
2) make sure to say the words with sincerity and truth
3) simply push irrelevant thoughts aside, or ignore them
4) try concentrating on a particular part of the service, and eventually exapand the portions of the service which you're able to daven with kavanah (Sichos Haran #75)
5) exercise great determination and firmness in pushing away irrelevant thoughts
6) make sure to pray audibly and to listen carefully to the sound of your voice
7) give charity for causes in the land of Israel
8) study the legal codes daily (see paragraph 55 in Lukutei Eitzos)
9) be prepared to sacrifice yourself for the sanctification of G-d's name
10) search for good points within yourself so you will be happy
11) force yourself to concentrate (paragraph 88, 90)
12) offer hospitality to a Torah scholar (paragraph 67)
13) say the words simply as if you were a little child (paragraph 92)
14) get yourself in a happy mood before you pray (Sichos HaRan #75)
15) pray with a happy tune (Id.)
Rambam, in Mishneh Torah, says the following:
"One should clear his mind from all thoughts and envision himself as standing before the Divine Presence. Therefore, one must sit a short while before praying in order to focus his attention and then pray in a pleasant and supplicatory fashion. 
One should not pray as one carrying a burden who throws it off and walks away. Therefore, one must sit a short while after praying, and then withdraw. 
The pious ones of the previous generations would wait an hour before praying and an hour after praying. They would [also] extend their prayers for an hour."

By "sitting," Rambam presumably means meditating, because the purpose of the sitting is to "clear his mind from all thoughts and envision himself as standing before the Divine Presence." So Rambam seems to be saying that one should meditate on G-d for a while, by visualizing the Shechinah and clearing one's mind of other thoughts, before beginning davening to ensure one davens with kavanah. 
As for other gedolim, I believe the approach of Chabad, as described by the Alter Rebbe in the Tanya, towards achieving kavanah is to meditate on the greatness of G-d before davening. This leads to a great love and awe for G-d, and motivates the meditator to serve Him with enthusiasm and holy intentions.

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