Thursday, April 26, 2007

Daf Yomi - Chagigah 19 - Praying without the Proper Intention

In the sefer Torah Lishma from the Ben Ish Chai, the following inquiry was asked: Our sages said that prayer without the proper kavanah (intent) is akin to a body without a soul. This being the case, what would be the purpose of prayer when one is unable to concentrate during his Tefillah due to the worries that weigh on his mind? Would such a prayer be accepted?

Furthermore, if one understands the words of tefillah and the basic translation of the prayers but does not comprehend the secrets hidden in the tefillos, then the depths of the prayers revealed to us by the Zohar and the Arizal will remain a mystery to him. One who is capable of performing a mitzvah in its entirety but does not grasp the hidden meanings of the mitzvah would seem to be missing an integral part of the mitzvah. Most people are on this level as they fulfill mitzvos and pray three times a day according to their basic understanding and because it is the will of Hashem. Is it possible, then, that most of our generation is deficient in tefillah and the performance of mitzvos due to a lack of comprehension regarding the profound implications of prayer and mitzvah performance?

The Ben Ish Chai responds: One who cannot concentrate on his prayers because he is entertaining other thoughts during tefillah should nevertheless continue to pray. This can be proven from the following Zohar in Parashas Vayechi: Rav Chizkiyah said that it is said that one should first prepare the praise of his Master and then pray. What should one do, however, if his heart is heavy and he wishes to pray, yet, since he is in distress he cannot properly formulate the praise of his Master? Rabbi Yosi responded that despite the fact that he cannot focus properly on his prayers and he will not be able to formulate the praise of his Master properly, he should still formulate the praises of his Master and he should pray. This is what it is said, a prayer of Dovid: Hear HaShem, what is righteous, be attentive to my supplication. First, hear HaShem righteous, as this is the formulation of praises for his Master, and subsequently, be attentive to my supplication, [give ear to my prayer]. One who is capable of formulating the praises of his Master and does not do so, regarding him it is said, even if you were to intensify your prayer, I will not listen.

In regards to the second question, the Ben Ish Chai writes that one is obligated to attempt to learn and understand the secrets of Hashem as Dovid told his son Shlomo: Know the G-d of your father and serve Him. Nonetheless, one who did not merit understanding these concepts and concentrates on the basic translation of the words and performs a mitzva with all its intricacies, his tefillah and mitzvos are considered complete and they are not deficient. This idea can be proven from the words of the Zohar in Parashas Yisro: If a mitzvah comes his way and he focuses on it, he is meritorious. If one did not have the proper intention he is meritorious as he has performed the will of his Master. Yet, he is not deemed to be like one who has fulfilled HaShem’s will selflessly and has performed the deed with the intention of fulfilling HaShem’s will for the sake of HaShem’s glory like one who does not know how to think. The reason for this is because the matter is dependant on the will performed selflessly and with the action selflessly performed below, the action above is removed and is purely rectified. In a similar vein, the action of the body rectifies the action of the soul with that will, as HaShem desires the heart and will of a person. Nonetheless, one needs to act wholeheartedly, which is the essence of everything, and regarding this Dovid prayed and said, may the pleasantness of the Lord, our G-d, be upon us, our handiwork, establish for us. No man is wise enough to align his will and his heart to rectify a matter completely, and for that reason he prays, our handiwork, establish for us. What is meant by the words establish for us? Establish and rectify Your rectifications above appropriately upon us. This, despite the fact that we are not capable of aligning our will completely. Rather, we perform the action, and You establish our handiwork. One who is on that level who requires rectification, establish it as one so that this matter should be rectified properly.

It thus emerges that this is precisely what Dovid requested of HaShem; a mitzvah or tefillah should not be regarded as deficient because of one’s lack of understanding regarding the secrets that are contained in the mitzvos. Rather it should be considered complete and whole without the slightest blemish.

For this reason our sages have instructed us to recite the tefillah of vihi noam prior to the performance of any mitzvah or the recital of any tefillah. The
recital of this verse inspires Dovid’s prayer and our deeds will be accepted completely despite the fact that we did not have the proper intention.

Rabbeinu Chaim, son of Rabbeinu Yitzchak, one of the Rishonim quotes our Gemora: We have learned in a Mishna in Mikvaos (5:6): If a wave that consisted of forty se’ah separated from the sea and fell on a person or utensils that were tamei, they become tahor. The Gemora explains that the Mishna is referring to a case where the person is sitting on the shore waiting for the wave to separate from the sea and fall on him or on the utensils. It is evident from our Gemora that even though the person did not directly immerse the utensils in the water; he was merely anticipating that the wave will detach itself from the sea and fall on the contaminated utensils, this is sufficient, provided that he has intention that the water should purify the utensils.

The Gemora in Chulin (31) states a similar halacha regarding a woman who was a menstruant. If water fell on her and her friend anticipated this and had intention for her, the immersion would be valid even though the menstruant herself was not intending for this to happen.

It would follow that we can apply this principle to other mitzvos as well. One who bakes matzah must have intention that it is being baked for the commandment of matzah. If one was baking without the proper intention, but another person was observing and did have the proper intention, the baking is valid and the matzah may be used for the mitzvah.

Rabbeinu Chaim concludes: If the intention of one’s fellow can facilitate the fulfillment of the mitzvah for his friend, then certainly the intentions of the Holy One, Blessed is He can achieve the same result. We entreat of HaShem before our prayers and prior to the performance of a mitzvah that He should establish our handiwork and rectify our actions for we are not capable of aligning our will completely. It is our mission to perform the actions to the best of our capabilities and Hashem will rectify the deeds appropriately.


Anonymous said...

I think ou mixed up Tevilah and tefilah

Avromi said...

cute - but why don't you read the entire piece?

Barry said...

I constantly find my mind wandering during the Shemoneh Esrei - thanks for the encouraging words, but is there any way of correcting this? Thank you

Avromi said...

Reb Chaim Stein was recently sitting shiva upon the loss of his son Reb Shalom Refoel Yehudah who was an unbelievable serious davener. He kept saying over a vort from chasidim on the passuk bo el hateiva (Go into the ark.) Look into the words, he said; follow along each and every word. The teiva protected from the mabbul of water and seeing the words can prevent the bilbul hamachshava. Try just for the first three brochos and eventually you will see success.

Tzipporah said...


I assume you understand the content of the Amidah, and that's not the reason. Is your mind wandering on weekdays because you are thinking about work, and the rest of the day? Because you're rushing through it so you can finish davening, or keep up with the others? Or just because you don't always feel a personal connection to the words?

I find it helpful to think of something in my life directly relating to each portion of the prayer - da'at, the things I will learn today, and the wonderful knowledge I already have which enables me to be successful in my work - teshuvah, some aveira I have accidentally committed, or some mitzvah I want to focus on for the day, etc. If you regularly make this kavanah part of your tefillah, you will find nto only that you pay more attention during prayer, but that your tefillah is carrying you through the rest of the day.