Choice Quotes Include:
The fact is, very few people daven with any kavanah (outside of the yeshivah environment).
[On wanting to reform davening]: I’m sure people will object, but deep down, you know I’m right.
With these reforms, davening will become shorter and more meaningful. You would probably attract more people to daily davening too. And people would have more kavanah cos there would be less to rush through.
While I don't endorse his post on wholesale change of tefilla, one of the main themes he discusses is, "Kavvana", which is what I would like to focus on today.
How does one keep their attention focused on the fact that man is standing before G-d? The wondrous human brain receives sensory input and multi-tasks thoughts at an incredible speed, and yet, davening is supposed to keep our attention intact for minutes on end.
And that's without serious external distractions.
How can one pray, attempting to actualize that you are standing before the King of Kings, when your nose starts to itch and you need to sneeze.
Finally, you sneeze and you need a tissue, so you desperately search your pockets for one. Kavvana?
Your kid is pulling at your arm, demanding your attention oblivious to the fact that you are davening. Kavvana?
While I can recall dozens of shiurim on the importance of Kavannah, never once was it put in plain human terms...as I just found in the Talmud Yerushalmi (thanks to Lurker, my virtual chavruta)
In all my years of yeshiva education, never once was davening taught as an experience of anything less than total subservience and fear before G-d.
Yet, the Amoraim in the Talmud Yerushalmi 2000 years ago had the exact same problem and attention issues that we face today!
The following quotes are not from some blog, but straight from the pages of the Gemara.
א"ר חייא: "רובא אנא מן יומי לא כוונית! אלא חד זמן בעי מכוונה, והרהרית בלבי ואמרית: מאן עליל קומי מלכא קדמי: ארקבסה, אי ריש גלותא?"
שמואל אמר: "אנא מנית אפרוחיא."
רבי בון בר חייא אמר: "אנא מנית דימוסיא."
א"ר מתניה: "אנא מחזק טיבו לראשי, דכד הוה מטי 'מודים', הוא כרע מגרמיה!"
[ירושלמי ברכות, פרק ב' הלכה ד' (דף י"ז,ב')]
Translation From Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer by Seth Kadish (Jason Aronson Inc., Northvale, NJ, Jerusalem, 1997), pp. 7-8, nn. 6-7:
...let us read what four other talmudic sages said about the terrible obstacles that prevented them from achieving Kavvana:
R. Hiyya said, “I never concentrated during prayer in all my days! Once I wanted to concentrate, but I thought about who will meet the king first: the Arkafta [a Persian high official] or the Exilarch [the head of the Jewish community in Persia]?” [Jameel: Who will meet Prime Minister Olmert first -- The Police Serious Crimes Unit or the Knesset Impeachment Committee?]
Shemuel said, “I count clouds [or “flocks of birds”] [during prayer].” [Jameel: sort of like counting sheep...?]
Rabbi Bun bar Hiyya said, “I count the layers of stones in the wall [while I pray].” [Jameel: How did that guy in front of me tie his techelet in his tzitzit?]
Rabbi Matnaya said, “I am grateful to my head, because it bows by itself when I read ‘Modim’!” [Jameel: ever daven on autopilot? Hmmm...I started a minute ago, how did I get to the end so quickly?]
[Yerushalmi Berakhot, end of 2:4 (16a in the standard Vilna edition). For convenient reference, the entire passage is cited by tosafot on Rosh Hashanah 16b (s.v. iyyun tefilla), but it is worth seeing it in the context of the previous discussion in the Yerushalmi... It is also referred to and partially quoted by the tosafot on Shabbat 118b...]
One commentary on the above passage asks why these four statements were preserved at all in the gemara. After all, even if these four great rabbis could not pray with concentration, what practical value does this fact have for us? The answer given is that these remarks were included to reassure other Jews who have trouble concentrating, by informing them that even the rabbis of talmudic times had major trouble with kavvana.
[See the commentary Toledot Yitzhak by Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Krasilshikov of Moscow, the manuscript of which was smuggled out of the Soviet Union and published by "Mahon Mutzal Me-Esh" in their new edition of Yerushalmi Berakhot (Bnei Brak, 5740), 29a. He wrote, “It is possible that they didn't want our spirits to fall because of the fact that we don't completely concentrate in prayer.”]
We learn two very important points from this Gemara:
1. The Amoraim, the Rabbis from the Talmudic era were in fact, human beings just as we are, and had the exact same trials and tribulations with Kavvana that we face today. (And they weren't even ashamed to admit it, nor was it covered up by the gemara). This message is important for both FFBs and BTs alike.
2. Kavvana is extremely difficult to attain or maintain in davening, regardless of outside interferences. Add in some ordinary distractions and its close to impossible.
Perhaps the way davening is taught needs to be totally re-evaluated. Parents should not feel guilty when their kids disturb them during davening. If your nose needs to be blown, stop snivelling, find a tissue and blow your nose! Granted, it's hard to keep the same mindset that you are standing before G-d and blowing your nose, but perhaps that's what we need to understand -- that G-d doesn't expect us to be anything more than we are in the first place.
davening, tefilla: prayer
kavanah: mental concentration/directing the heart and mind in prayer
shiurim: lectures on Jewish topics
Amoraim: "those who say" or "those who tell over"), were renowned Jewish scholars who "said" or "told over" the teachings of the Oral law, from about 200 to 500 CE in Babylonia and the Land of Israel. Their legal discussions and debates were eventually codified in the Gemara. The Amoraim followed the Tannaim in the sequence of ancient Jewish scholars. Not to be confused with Marvel comic book character, Amora.
Yerushalmi: The Talmud which was codified in Israel, as opposed to the Bavli, which was codified in Babylonia.
PS: A good friend of mine, JH, once said,"The best material for a purim shpiel is usually thought up during Neila at the end of Yom Kippur"
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael