09 Feb THINKING WHILE WE PRAY MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE
We live in a world dominated by thoughts of the Covid-19 virus, its spread and the mass administration of vaccine. We also have a variety of routine medical tests – from CT scan and MRI to colonoscopy and PAP smear, mammogram and prostate screening, to name just a few. While the vaccine and these tests are a great gift to mankind – helping to protect us from the deadly coronavirus and to detect potentially dangerous diseases in our bodies before the advance beyond control, chas v’shalom, the times are also very scary and have created many a fearful moment for all of us.
The Torah teaches us, “Va’avad’tem eis Hashem Elokeichem uveirach es lachm’cha v’es meimecha vahasirosi machaloh mikirbecha; Lo sihyeh mishakeilah vaakarah b’artzecha es mispar yomecha amalei – And you should serve Hashem your G-d and He will bless your bread and your water; He will remove sickness from your midst. No one will bury their children in their lifetime. You will be spared barrenness in your land and I will fulfill the quota of your years.” This posuk, besides promising us Divine assistance towards our sustenance plus a host of other assurances, guarantees us removal of any sickness from our midst. This is the kind of medical insurance that we hope for – and it is provided to us by paying the premium mentioned in the beginning of the posuk, “Va’avad’tem eis Hashem Elokeichem,” to work for Hashem, your G-d.”
What is the exact nature of this work that provides for us such Divine assurances? The Sefer HaIkrim states that this posuk is referring to the work of prayer. As the Gemora teaches us in the beginning of Masechtas Taanis [2b],” Eizehu avodah she’hi b’leiv? Hevei omer zu tefilah – What is the work of the heart? We conclude that it is prayer.” In a similar fashion, the Baal HaTurim points out that most of the fifty-three directives in Parshas Mishpotim are written in the singular. Thus it says, “Lo sishtachave – You should not bow down (to their idols), V’lo saav’deim – You should not worship them (idols),” all written in the singular. However, in our verse, the word “va’avad’tem” is written in the plural. This, explains the Baal HaTurim, is because the verse refers to prayer and the most effective form of prayers is to pray in a minyan, amongst the many. Thus, the word “va’avad’tem” here is written in the plural. We see, therefore, that the Baal HaTurim explains likewise, the promise in the verse refers to the work of prayer.
The next question is: What exactly is the nature of the work of prayer? The Avudraham, Zt”l, Zy”a, in his preface to Shemone Esrei, writes that the work of prayer is “La’hasir hamachashovah hatrudah b’iskei haolam u’l’haviah b’shibud hakavanah – To remove thoughts that are occupied with the mundane affairs of the world and to focus our concentration on our devotion to Hashem.” Thus we see that all the aforementioned Divine promises of freedom from sickness and so forth comes to those who diligently apply themselves to proper kavanah, concentration, during davening. The Avudraham caps this with an incredible gematria. The word tefilah, prayer, numerically equals 515. He reveals, in brilliant fashion, that the words “b’kavanas ha’leiv,” with the concentration of the heart, also equal exactly 515.
With this realization of how critical it is to vacate our minds during prayer from worldly thoughts comes a new found realization of how talking in Shul absolutely clashes with the whole objective of the work of prayer – for while the devoted worshiper is working hard at the avodah of purging the thoughts of daily living from his or her minds, others are actively engaged in discussing life’s trivialities. The saintly Chovos Halevovos, Zt”l, Zy”a, makes the powerful declaration that prayer without kavanah is like the peel without the fruit, and a body without the soul. The Hafla’ah takes this statement of the Chovos Halevovos a step further. He elaborates that since we want our prayers to rise to the Heavens, they must be infused with a ruach, a spirit that causes them to levitate all the way to the Kisei HaKavod, Hashem’s Throne of Glory. Since the Chovos Halevovos had said that prayer without kavanah is like a body without spirit, such prayers are lifeless and cannot rise to the Heavens. It is only when we inject kavanah, meaning, into our prayers that we fill them with the necessary sprit to cause them to soar and pierce the very Heavens where they can be most effective.
With the help of Hashem, may we be inspired to pray with full kavanah and, in that merit, may we earn all the promises of the verse we’ve been discussing – being spared from all sickness, being granted Divine help in our parnassa, and being granted a long life of happiness and everything wonderful.