Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 21 May 2016 / 13 Iyyar 5776

The Spoken Word of Prayer

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Infused with one’s very breath of life is an expression of the heart and soul within. Channeled through the twenty-two letters of the aleph-beit, the words of prayer ascend on high, connecting us — mind, body, and soul — to the Infinite One.

“When praying, one should have in mind the meaning of the words that he is saying. He should also think as if the Divine presence is facing him. One should remove all disturbing and distracting thoughts from one’s mind in order that all thoughts will be focused in the prayers.

“If one were to speak before a mortal king one would be careful to organize every word, making sure not to make a mistake. How much more so should one do the same when speaking to the King of kings, the blessed Holy One, Who knows every thought of the person! The pious and dutiful people would seclude themselves before prayer, meditating on their prayers until they reached a transcendental level beyond the physical realm — close to the level of prophesy. One should concentrate on things that humble the spirit, thereby directing him to his Father in Heaven. One should not think of things which might lead to light-heartedness.” (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 98:1)

The Eliya Rabbah in the name of the Kitzur Shelah suggests a method for removing distracting thoughts from one’s mind before praying. One should pass his right hand three times over his forehead while reciting the verse “Create a pure heart for me, O G-d, and a steadfast spirit renew within me” (Tehillim 51:12) each time. Also, if a distracting thought comes during prayer, one should pause for a moment and use this method, but think the words of the verse rather than say them aloud. (Mishneh Berurah)

One should not pray in a place or at a time (like when angry or traveling — Mishneh Berurah) that will disturb his concentration during prayer (Tur in the name of Rabbi Meir of Rotenberg). Today we are not so careful with the above since we are no longer able to pray with so much concentration.” (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 98:2)

The Pri Megadim writes in the name of the Levush that even though we are no longer able to pray with “proper concentration” as in earlier days, we must still do what we can to ensure that we pray our best. We therefore should not deliberately pray in a place that will disturb us, such as in a place with a bad smell. (Mishneh Berurah)

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