Concentrating on Tefillah

Berachot (5:1) | Yehuda Gottlieb | 5 years ago

The beginning of the fifth perek of Masechet Berachot discusses the preparation one must have prior to davening shemoneh esreh. It states that in general, one should stand and daven shemoneh esreh with appropriate concentration. In fact, the early chasidim used to prepare themselves for one hour prior to davening.

The term the Mishnah uses for this preparation and concentration is “koved rosh”. The mefarshim discuss the meaning of this term. Rashi states that koved rosh is submission and seriousness. This term is the opposite of the term “kalut rosh”, literally a ‘light head’, which is generally a word that represents joviality and typically has a negative connotation when used in the context of tefillah. The Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah state that the word ‘koved rosh’ is used as a parable to indicate that just as one’s head is heavy and is propped up and supported by the body, so too all one’s limbs should be ‘carried’ and subservient in their service of Hashem. The Pnei Yehoshua seems to take elements from both these explanations and states that the term indicates that one should subjugate his mind and turn away from all mundane matters to focus solely on Hashem prior to davening.

The fact that the Mishnah specifies that one must stand prior to davening is discussed by mefarshim. The Tifferet Yisrael states that the Mishna uses the term ‘standing’ as this precedes shemonah esreh during which one must stand in any event. The Maggid Ha’alumah states that, from the word ‘standing’ we understand that this is referring specifically to someone who is davening shemoneh esreh (the Amidah) without davening any of the preceding tefillot (i.e. pesukei d’zimrah and kriat shemah). Since this person is approaching shomeneh esreh without the appropriate preparation, the Mishnah states that he should stand in order to put himself into the right frame of mind. However, if one was to say the preceding brachot and mizmorim, then one would have undertaken the appropriate preparation and would be in the appropriate frame of mind to daven shemoneh esreh with kavanah. The further chiddush here is that it is only the routine prayers, the Amidah, that one must stand for and first apply appropriate concentration. However, if one was davening or calling out to Hashem because he was in a state of tza’ar or needed salvation, he would not need prior preparation for the appropriate kavanah required and can turn to Hashem immediately.

The Sefer Haminhagot comments on the language of the Mishnah which states that one must daven “mitoch koved rosh” (literally: in the midst of concentration) and not just “b’koved rosh” which would be a much simpler expression. This is because one must not approach tefilla in an unprepared manner where one is not concentrating, but should rather undertake all the appropriate preparation by saying the mizmorim and prior brachot with kavanah, and then approach Shmoneh Esreh and achieve an even deeper level of concentration. The Kedusha U’Bracha adds to this that the language of the Mishnah infers this by stating the directive in a roundabout way (i.e. we do not stand for shemoneh esreh unless we are in the midst of concentration) rather than instructing one using a directive (i.e. ‘one must concentrate for shemoneh esreh’) to imply that one must already have a level of concentration prior to the Amidah prayer. This is supported by the next part of the Mishnah which brings a story of the early chasidim who used to prepare themselves for one hour prior to prayer. This is brought to show that one must not only concentrate for the shemoneh esreh itself, but rather should approach the amidah with the appropriate level of preparation and concentration. With this base level, one can then say the amidah with an even deeper level of concentration and therefore increase the quality and (hopefully effectiveness) of the tefillah.

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