by Reb Aharon Rubin, from Eye to the Infinite, shared with permission.
What does bonding one’s soul with G-d mean? In an intriguing passage in the Talmud, three Rabbis comment that they only ever had kavonoh (focus and intention) once whilst praying, whereupon each Rabbi recounts what he thought of in order to have kavonoh. Pronounced by giants of the spirit, men of inestimable piety and wisdom upon whom the Shechinoh dwelt, these are perplexing words. We can however begin to make sense of their debate by understanding what kavonoh means and the difference between kavonoh and deveikuth.
Kavonoh comes from kavein, ‘to direct’. It implies the mind is focused elsewhere and needs to be redirected. Directing the mind during prayer is only necessary when not in a state of G-d awareness.
These rabbis were in a constant state of deveikuth; they never had to direct their minds! The particular occasions on which they did have kavonoh, i.e. they had to redirect their minds, are lessons in how to redirect the mind when not focused.
One rabbi thought of who would be going first before the Caesar. Visualising having an audience with a powerful person arouses feelings of dread. Today, such fear is something few from the Western world can associate with but yesteryear, the fear was real. A monarch’s displeasure meant certain death. The next step is to realise one is standing before the most powerful of all, the Omnipotent King of kings, in Whose Hand are the lives of all humanity and creation.
The second rabbi watched birds flying. Besides the association of ideas, from birds to heaven and thence to G-d, this may be an allusion to souls or angels sometimes referred to as “birds” or “the winged-ones”. Meditating on heavenly beings brought him to the requisite mindset of standing before G-d.
The third rabbi counted rows of bricks in a wall. While this may also have been a method of quietening the mind before prayer, it likely alludes to the various spiritual levels or worlds encountered during prayer. These lie in layers, like rows of bricks, housing the light of Ein Sof, as a wall surrounds and safeguards its contents.
(In addition, these three methods correspond to three levels of Divinity encountered in prayer, the Divine soul, the angelic world and the outer vessels of the spiritual worlds, (in reverse order, worlds, souls and G-dliness) which correspond to the main stages of prayer, as discussed at the end of this chapter. Each rabbi would have used the method most suited to his soul-root.)
Thus, prayer does not necessarily need kavonoh, i.e. active focusing of the mind. Rather, prayer devotion constitutes the verbalisation of one’s awareness of standing before G-d, or speech spoken to G-d whilst in a state of deveikuth and bittul (self-nullification), enveloped by the Divine Presence. Only if one has not yet reached this level, does one need kavonoh, i.e. to redirect the mind.
 Yerushalmi, Brochoth 17b.
 See also Chidushei HaGrach (R. Chaim Soloveitchik), Rambam, Hilchoth Tefilloh, 4:1.
 Ecclesiastes, 10:20. See also Daniel, 9:21 and Zohar III, 27a.