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Parshas Haazinu

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 one's tefillah.

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.


 

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