Have Questions or Comments?
Leave us some feedback and we'll reply back!

    Your Name (required)

    Your Email (required)

    Phone Number)

    In Reference to

    Your Message


    I. Praying Quickly

    We are often told that the slower we pray, the better we pray. We have more intent, more time to think about the meaning of each word. But there may be reasons to pray quickly, saying every word with focus and intent but at a quick pace and without much pausing.

    Rav Chaim Soloveitchik reportedly said his Amidah so quickly that people challenged him that you are supposed to pray as if you are counting money (Mishnah Berurah 51:20). To which he responded that he counts money that quickly also (Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 120). Presumably he prayed quickly because of his view that your prayer is invalid unless throughout you recognize that you are standing before the King (Chiddushei Rav Chaim Ha-Levi Al Ha-Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 4:31). Since it is difficult to maintain that intention for an extended period of time, he prayed quickly and intensively.

    Even more fundamentally, the Gemara (Shabbos 10a) tells the story that Rav Hamnuna was praying for a long time. Rava saw this and criticized him: “Why are you leaving chayei olam (eternal life) for chayei sha’ah (temporary life)?” Rather than learn Torah, which brings eternal life, Rav Hamnuna was praying for life in this world, which is temporary. According to Rava, you should pray quickly so you can learn more Torah.

    The Gemara explains that Rav Hamnuna set different times for prayer and for learning. However, the continuation of the Gemara makes it seem that Rava’s argument is conclusive. R. Yirmiyah and R. Zeira were learning Torah. Prayer time arrived and R. Yirmiyah rushed to begin his prayers. R. Zeira criticized him, quoting the verse, “One who turns his ear from hearing Torah, even his prayer is an abomination” (Prov. 28:9). According to Rava and R. Zeira, we have to pray but we should minimize the time we spend in prayer so we can learn more Torah.

    II. Prayer and This World

    However, is it really true that prayer is for this world, in contrast with Torah which is for the next world? Rashi (ad loc., s.v. chayei olam) says that prayer is about this-worldly matters, such as health, peace and food. Rav Alexander Shor (18th cen., Ukraine; Tevu’os Shor, Shabbos, ad loc.) points out that parts of the Amidah prayer are for eternal matters, such as the blessings for knowledge and repentance. Maybe Rav Hamnuna was saying those parts of the prayer at length but hurrying through the blessings for sustenance and health. Rather, explains Rav Shor, Rava’s concern was not that the content of prayer is this-worldly but that the reward for long prayer is long life in this world (Berachos 55a), just like the reward for service in the Temple was long life. Rav Hamnuna was saying longer prayers so he could live longer. Rava objected that he should use that time to learn Torah so he should achieve more reward in the next world.

    Rav Avraham Maskileisan (19th cen., Belarus; Maskil Le-Eisan, Shabbos, ad loc.) challenges Rav Shor’s explanation. Does not prayer also achieve reward in the next world? Rather, he quotes the Gemara (Sotah 21a) that distinguishes between the protection afforded by a mitzvah to that given by Torah study. A mitzvah protects you from harm while you perform that mitzvah. Torah protects you forever, even after you cease studying. Rav Shmuel Eidels (17th cen., Poland; Chiddushei Maharsha, Sotah, ad loc.) explains that a mitzvah protects you from punishment in this works while Torah study protects you from punishment even in the next world. Therefore, you should minimize your prayer in exchange for more Torah.

    According to Rashi, Torah is preferred to prayer because of its content. According to the Tevu’os Shor, because of its reward. And according to the Maskil Le-Eisan, because of its protective quality.

    III. Important Caveats

    However, we have to question whether this is relevant for people who regularly spend time earning a living. We work for many hours each day, which is a clear case of focusing on chayei sha’ah, this world. Is there any room to say that we should not spend too much time on prayer when we spend so much time working?

    On the other hand, if (for example) you have two hours in the morning before work, you can spend all the time praying or you can divide it between praying and learning Torah. Is it wise to spend too much of that limited time on this-worldly prayer when you can spend more time on next-worldly Torah? Even someone who works can maximize his Torah time.

    Additionally, we should consider the impact of your prayer on your Torah study. For many people, the quality of their prayer directly impacts the spiritual quality of their day, including their ability to learn Torah. A heartfelt prayer sets the right tone for the day. Praying too quickly risks decreasing the quality and quantity of Torah you learn during the day.

    I saw it written that Rav Moshe Sofer (Chasam Sofer, 19th cen., Hungary) quipped that he prayed for longer life so he could learn more Torah. In that way, his long prayer extending his chayei sha’ah extends his chayei olam, as well.