The Words Have Meaning
Even when a person’s head is clear of other thoughts, he cannot say that he
is concentrating on his prayers. He must also try and ponder the meaning of
the words that he is saying, and at the same time enter the mindset of
actually conversing with the Creator of the universe.
A person should try to think about the meaning of the words that he is
saying during the duration of the Shemoneh Esrei. If he is unable to do
this, he should at least concentrate on the meaning of the words during the
first berachah (Berachos 34b, Shulchan Aruch 101,1).
Some authorities write that if a person did not perceive himself as standing
in front of Hashem for the entirety of his tefillah, he has not fulfilled
his obligation (Rav Chaim Brisker on the Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah). Although
this is certainly a worthy goal, the halachah is that one fulfills his
obligation of tefillah even if he didn’t manage to retain this mindset for
the duration of the whole Shemoneh Esrei.
Tuesday - After the Fact
We have established that one is obligated to concentrate on the meaning of
the words that he is saying, at least during the first berachah of Shemoneh
Esrei. If a person did not pay proper attention, he did not fulfill the
mitzvah of tefillah; however, he is not required to repeat his prayer, for
fear that the next tefillah would encounter the same lack of intention (Rema).
What can a person do if he has just completed the first blessing of Shemoneh
Esrei without intention? If he is in shul, he may listen to the first
berachah recited by the shaliach tzibbur, and then continue his tefillah
(Biur Halachah 101,1). However, this is not the customary practice (Ishei
Yisrael 11,8). Some suggest that reviewing the entire first berachah in
one's head without verbalizing the words, instills the concentration into
Since today the attention span has dwindled down to seconds, we must address
the following question. If a person did not have the proper intention for
the first blessing, how can he be permitted to continue? Aren’t all of the
ensuing berachos considered to be uttered in vain?
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach explains that the blessings that follow are not
said in vain. Once the first berachah was recited devoid of proper
intention, his berachos cannot be considered a cohesive unit of tefillah.
Rather, they are related to as nineteen separate blessings (as cited in
Siach Halachah 104,4). Although one does not fulfil the mitzvah of tefillah,
it is as if he recited nineteen blessings.
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.