Kavonno in Tefillah, Excerpt from Kuntress Oros Shel Daas

Considering how much people want to be back in the batei midrashim and davening with a minyan, yours truly included, I have decided to post a short excerpt from a project of mine in relation to kavono in tefilah and kedushas beis hamidrash:

Hashem should make my words acceptable to all, and heard completely without any misunderstandings or misgivings in any sense. This is perhaps one of the biggest challenges of our generation, that being proper kovod and kavono in davening. All the rebbes have written on this to one degree or another, none quite as much as Reb Areleh zy’a in our immediately previous generation perhaps, but this has always been a problem which is even more pronounced now in this time. The Rambam wanted to do away with chazaras hashatz in its entirety, beyond what’s necessary to say Kedusha, due to people shmoozing the whole time and ruining the atmosphere of holiness required for this avodah. All halacha seforim state in no uncertain terms that speaking in davening is an aveira and must not be done outside of a tzorich mitzva or tzorich tefillah in the most lenient parts of davening. Even signalling (such as saying “Nu??” and hand signs) are forbidden at certain points of davenen, such as krias shma and the brochos before. I beseech everyone to be very careful in this inyan.

Kavono is a prerequisite to be yotzei chiyuv tefillah. The Siddur Chelkas Yehoshua brings from the Rambam that one must see himself as standing before the King in the first brocho of Shmoneh Esreh, otherwise he is not yotzei tefillah at all. The Gemoro in Brochos brings that one must have kavonno on this brocho to be yotzei tefilah at the absolute minimum, though the Braisa maintains that one should be m’chaven on all brochos, if it is impossible, then he must have kavono with the first brocho. We can see from this how necessary and powerful kavono is. In the humble opinion of the author, the key way to fix the problem of a lack of kavono in davening is for everyone to understand peirush hamilos, each word should be known and familiar to the person as he davens. In previous generations we had the excuse of not having translations into simple language for everyone, or that a person couldn’t read well, neither of these excuses exist in our generation. One can acquire a siddur with a translation into English, Spanish, Yiddish, Russian, or nearly any language that is known to him. We have now countless siddurim that come with wonderful commentaries that explain the depths of the words and their full meanings now as well. There is no excuse to not understand each word in davening. This is only the first level though. After properly understanding the words themselves, one should acquire a siddur with peirush on tefillah. Siddur M’Sok Midvash and Siddur Chelkas Yehoshua are two that come to mind; the latter has both according to the simple meaning and al pi kabbalah, whereas the former has selections from the Zohar on the sections of davening and their meanings.

One of the greatest methods for kavonno in davening is learning before prayer in the beis medresh for an hour or so. What to learn depends on the person and their own personal feeling and level of comprehension. I believe the most efficacious forms of Torah to learn are Kabbalah and Chassidis. The Tzaddikim state that there are many wonderful things that occur when a person learns Kabbalah before davening. The Zohar itself states that the time spent in learning is an Es Ratzon, a Time of Will, when our prayers will be accepted on High and is hence a proper time for prayer. The key thing is that the learning causes a person to reflect upon himself, his station in life, how small he is in comparison to Hashem, and from a point of great humility and awe of God, go to daven with the proper attitude and focus. I will say, that this service should not cause one to err in any regard insofar as regards zman tefillah. The majority of authorities bring that it’s four hours into the day, however the Zohar HaKodosh states that chatzos (mid-day) is the latest time for Shachris because that’s the last hour of Chesed, and Avrohom instituted Shachris and he was the manifestation of Chesed; once chatzos comes, it changes to the time of Yitzchok, which is Din and Gevurah, hence it is no longer appropriate to daven Shachris and rather it immediately switches to Mincha time. The Baal HaTanya brings this shitta from the Tanna Kamma in Maseches Brochos as an acceptable shitta in halacha, however it must be carefully kept to without any failure. The gemoro is very clear in Brochos as to the horribleness that missing the zman outside of extenuating circumstances is.

Shmoozing before davening with friends is a sure-fire way to destroy kavono. It is brought in the sifrei chassidis that one who speaks devorim b’teilim (worthless words) before davening loses his yiras shomayim and ability to focus properly on the prayers. This is a clear halocho brought from the gemoro in the Shulchon Oruch, and to be lenient in this matter only brings problems upon the person. To talk with your friends about anything, be it business, family matters, how good the coffee in shul is, so on and so forth is a tremendous insult to Hashem Yisborach. It shows that one believes his friends and himself, all of us only flesh and blood creations formed out of dust, are more important than the Borei Kol HaOlamim! I beseech everyone reading this to please consider what you are doing in shul, what you’re doing for Klal Yisroel, and what you’re doing for Hashem when you engage in such conduct. Nothing is more precious than Hashem, the One Who possesses all the gold and silver, a whole warehouse of Yiras Hashem (Awe/Fear of God), runs the entire world and controls everything, and countless other praises beyond what we can utter. If you must talk, keep it short and simple. Do not sit for hours talking and wasting away your life. It’s for your own benefit in many ways to behave correctly, Hashem wants those who fear Him as we say every day in Pesukei D’Zimrah. We have to ask for much assistance from God to avoid erring in any way in these matters.

In regards to talking in the batei midrashim that we have now, one should reference the Beiur Halocho on Shulchon Oruch Hilchos Beis HaK’neseses, Simon 151, starting “avol b’veis hamedresh mutor”. He says there that in our batei medroshim there’s a big shaaleh as to if it is mutar or not, because we daven all of our tefillos in our batei midrashim and we don’t distinguish bewtween a beis medresh and beis haknesses.

Therefore, I want to encourage everyone to be careful not to speak unnecessarily in a beis medresh once they are open, and to avoid eating there if they don’t have to. Coffee or tea is almost unanimously agreed as to be okay, along with water, but established eating should absolutely be avoided beyond tishen or bottes with rebbes/tzaddikim.

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