Kevi’ut in Tefillah

Berachot (4:4) | Yehuda Gottlieb | 12 years ago

In Masechet Berachot (4:4) we are introduced to the opinion of Rebbi Eliezer who teaches a rather cryptic lesson about the process of prayer:

HaOseh Tefilato Kevah, ein tefilato tachanunim.

One who makes his prayer “fixed” – this prayer is not a supplication.

The Gemara in Berachot 29a outlines the opinion of Rav Oshaya who explains the above teaching as referring to one’s approach to prayer. The term ‘kevah’ is translated by Rav Oshaya as a ‘burden’. This individual is essentially approaching prayer as something that is heavy and burdensome, and therefore this prayer is not an appropriate supplication.

The Rabbanan disagree with R’ Oshaya by stating that kevah refers not to ones mindset but rather to the manner the prayer is said. The Rabbanan seem to indicate that in order for prayer to be appropriate it must be said with appropriate degree of supplication.

R’ Yona develops the opinions of these Amoraim further. Seemingly, the Rabbanan hold that even if one had the mindset that davening is burdensome, yet still uses the appropriate supplicatory language – even though he is davening because he has a chiyuv and does not need anything – since he is using the appropriate language his prayer is appropriate. Additionally, according to the Rabbi’s even if one wants or needs something from G-d, yet uses inappropriate language, his needs will still not be fulfilled. According to Rabbi Oshaya however, the dependence of an appropriate davening is on whether one sees it as a burden or not.

Therefore, it is not enough to have only the correct mindset when approaching davening but one would have to ask appropriately as well. The reason behind this could be because a person who sees prayer as a burden, views tefillah as an obligation to be discharged like any other. This individual has no passion or desire to use it as a tool to achieve a sense of closeness with Hashem. However, one that appreciates tefillah and approaches it with the proper mindset would have the correct thoughts and tone when approaching G-d to beg for his needs.

Interestingly the Tifferet Yisrael offers other interpretations for the word kevah. The Tifferet Yisrael mentions that one who makes his tefillah fixed is one who does not say his Tefillah with supplication (i.e. one who is brazen). He also offers another interpretation which refers to a person who does not say anything new in his prayers (eino mechadesh bo davar). Another interesting and more stringent interpretation that he offers is that keva refers to one who does not daven at netz ha’chamah. It is all these people whose prayers are not seen as supplications before Hashem.

According to the Pnei Menachem (Berachot 32b) the term kevah means a finite amount. Using this interpretation this Mishnah is saying that one who puts a limit on his davening – his tefillah is not an appropriate supplication. This is because this person simply davens once and expects his prayers to be answered. The true accomplishment lies in continually working on one’s tefillah and improving one’s understanding and kavanah over time.

The Tosfot Anshei Shem focuses on the end of the passage by interpreting the words ‘tachanunim’ in Rebbi Eliezer’s statement. He states that one who davens in a fashion of keviut will not find chen(favour) in the eyes of Hashem.

Tosfot Anshei Shem also provides a second interpretation. He states that a person requires Hashem at every instance in the day. Without Hashem, we could not survive in this world for a second. Therefore, it is incumbent upon a person to supplicate himself before Hashem at every instant. A person who makes his davening ‘fixed’ is essentially saying to Hashem that he only requires his help at times that are fixed by that individual. This brazen attitude demonstrates that a person is only supplicating before G-d when it is convenient for him and therefore it is not a desperate request for G-d to sustain that type of person at all times.


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