Monday, February 22, 2016

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Laws and Customs of Prayer – Bonding with G-d

by Reb Aharon Rubin, from Eye to the Infinite, shared with permission.

Laws and Customs

The three daily prayers, Shach’rith, Min­choh and Ma’ariv, are meals for the soul. As the Kuzari says, just as the body needs daily meals to sustain it, so the soul needs the three daily prayers.[1] These major meditation exer­cises of the day pro­vide spiritual sus­tenance, guid­ance and con­nec­tion for each twenty-four hour period, with the Sh’moneh Es­reh as the central meditative prayer of all three prayers.

The thrice-daily repeti­tion for six days a week, of the same Sh’moneh Esreh prayer, will in the course of time, in­duces a deep medita­tive state. Just re­peating the prayer brings on a pro­found state, allowing you to access your soul’s po­tential.[2] Thus, care ought to be taken to ar­ticulate each word.[3]

In addi­tion to re­peat­ing the same words, the rabbis advised one to pray in the same place and time each day.[4] These guiding, regulating laws create a subconscious feeling of expectancy when arriving at the time and place of prayer and build a metaphys­ical ladder for the soul’s ascent.

Saying the same words daily means that soon you will not need to think which words to say. You can then use your mind to savour each word, filling them with meaning. Another possibility is to say the words almost mechanically, whilst your mind is bound to G-d. We will be discussing this method later.

Infusing the words of prayer with feelings of awe and love en­ables the soul to escape its physi­cal con­fine and soar heavenward.[5] The advice of the maestros of pro­phecy and prayer, the Anshei Knesseth HaGe­dolah, (the “Men of the Great Assem­bly” from the Sec­ond Tem­ple period, a legislative body made up of prophets and sages imbued with the Holy Spirit) helps us focus our emotions. Their advice is lib­er­ally quoted by the Tal­mud and codi­fied in the Shulchon Oruch. The following is a selection of their teach­ings, with some added in­struc­tion from the Chassidic masters.

· Pray from joy. The sages say one should only start to pray from the joy of a mitsvoh.[6] According to the Ari HaQodosh, nothing so harms the soul – and the efficacy of prophetic-prayer – as sadness, saying

It is forbidden to pray from sadness – [because then] the soul will be unable to receive the higher Light that comes on a person during prayer … [In­stead] one should be before Him with great humility, with fear and awe; however it should be with exceedingly great joy, as much as is possible.[7]

If something has upset you, try to attach to the utopic, higher place – the source of all souls – where everything is perfect. You are automatically bound to that place through your soul.[8] Pray from that place of light and perfection. Joy also helps the brain to focus.

· See yourself as being be­fore G-d. Be certain that the Shechi­noh is in front of you. Knowing you stand before G-d will help you experi­ence the Divine Pres­ence. This is not mere imagina­tion. It is visualising a reality we cannot see due to a hiatus in human, physical, perception.[9] The more you realise yourself standing before G-d, the more that reality will work for you. The pious of old used to meditate on this for an hour before pray­ing.[10]

Stand with your right hand clasped over your left hand, over your heart, eyes cast downwards. This helps centre your attention and places you in the right frame of mind: standing before the King of kings, His Shechinoh before you.[11]

· Speak aloud.[12] If you can, draw out the words as you meditate. Say each phrase softly, with emotion – au­dibly, con­sciously and de­liber­ately.[13] Speak­ing audibly, (not shouting) will help you come to the realisation of standing before G-d’s Presence. (Shouting will not.)

· Visualise. Even when hearing prayer, use your imagination. Don’t just read the prayers. Conjure up images of the subject matter, or picture their letters (this is discussed later).[14] When the prayer is about the angels, imagine yourself amongst them.[15]

Because the subconscious does not differentiate between reality and vis­ualisation, visualising is an important and effective tool in influencing the psyche. Thinking of the su­pernal realms will engender and strengthen your in­stinctive feelings of love and awe for G-d, which when aroused, make a profound impres­sion on the uncon­scious mind, drawing you into a deep, med­itative state.

· Don’t rush.[16] Praying attentively allows you to connect the meaning of each word with the feel­ings of your heart.

The Maggid of Mezritch says one should ‘step’ into each word. Emotion and humility are keys to the soul and pow­erful in­stru­ments for raising aware­ness; they allow you to enter the words of prayer. Ex­plore and di­gest each word.[17] En­compassed by their mean­ing, connects you to the worlds of angels, Sefiroth and the Soul. Pray­ing from your heart [Binoh] awakens your inner wis­dom [Chochmoh], height­ens your awareness [Kether] and enables you to ac­cess the higher lev­els.[18]

Being pre­sent in each word, encapsulated by its content, say­ing each word slowly and meditatively, con­veys an inner joy, which facili­tates as­simi­la­tion of the words’ mean­ings at a profound level, such that, in due course, your out­look and life-style may change as spiritual inte­gra­tion takes place.

· Avoid tension. Try not to force feelings. Don’t worry about having the correct emotions. These thoughts come from the ego. Attending to them will arouse latent egotistic instincts.

It is better not to re­peat what you have said. Even ‘mindless’ prayer is efficacious.[19] Nervous repetition is a vicious circle and may lead to ego-induced lethargy.

Pray calmly and con­sciously. If your at­ten­tion drifts, stop for a brief moment until your concentration re­turns and then go on.[20] Allowing your mind to relax will help you access the light hidden within the words, the Ohr HaGonuz. Letting go of your ego enables you to expe­ri­ence the Di­vine Pres­ence.


[1] Kuzari 3:5. See also Zohar, Vol. I, 24a, Nefesh HaChaim, Gate 2, Chapter 9.

[2] See Midrash Rabboh, Lev. 32.

[3] Mishnoh Beruroh, Orach Chaim 51:8, 20.

[4] Brochoth 6b, 7b. Even moving slightly can disturb the meditative state of deveikuth – see Brochoth 6b, Sha’arei Qedushoh 4:3 and Liqutei Mo­ha­Ran Tinyonoh, 124.

[5] Sha’ar Ruach HaQodesh. The Zohar HaQodosh and, later, the Ari HaQodosh, in his Sefer HaYichudim (Book of Unifications), re­fer to love and awe as the soul’s wings.

[6] Brochoth 31a. See also Pesochim 117a.

[7] Sha’ar HaKavonoth (Gate of Meditations) p. 1, col. 2.

[8] Noam Elimelech. See also Sha’ar HaKavonoth, ibid.

[9] Sanhedrin 22a, Rif Brochoth 25b. O.C. 98:1.

[10] Brochoth 30b, 32b, Shulchon Oruch, ibid., 93:1. (See above, p. 110.)

[11] Shabboth, 10a. O.C. 95:3.

[12] See Brochoth 24b and commentaries ad loc. Also Shulchon Oruch, Orach Chaim 98:1.

[13] See Eiruvin 54a regarding learning aloud. (“R. Zera said “[This may be derived] from here: ‘A man has joy in the answer of his mouth; and a word in due season, how good is it!’ (Prov. 15:23) When is it that ‘a man has joy’? When he has an ‘answer in his mouth’”. Rabbi Isaac said “From here: ‘But the word is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it’ (Deut. 30:14). When is it ‘very near to you’? When it is ‘in your mouth and in your heart to do it’”. Raba said “From here: ‘You have given him his heart's desire, the utterance of his lips You have not withheld, Selah’ (Psalms, 21:3). When have ‘You given him his heart's desire’? At the time when You give him the understanding that ‘the utterance of his lips be not withheld’”.”)

[14] See Hasogoth HoRa’avad, Hilchoth Teshuvoh 3:7 and Ma’amar MaHarash Alqabets in Sefer Shivrei HaLuchoth.

[15] Rabbi Yaakov Emden, in his Beis Yaakov Siddur, based on the Zohar and Ari’s teachings.

[16] Roqeach, Intro. (p. 21), Semaq, Mitsvoth Asei 11, Tur O.C. Darchei Moshe, 5:1. There are those that find that by saying the words quickly, they save themselves from getting distracted. This too is a valid approach – see Yosef Omets, §70 (Chidoh), Ta'amei HaMinhogim, Quntrus Acharon, §66. Either way, one should be careful not to miss out words. Cf. Divrei Emeth by the Choizeh from Lublin, Noach, s.v. Gol el HaShem.

[17] See Ahavath Sholom, Vayikro, also Ba’al Shem Tov al HaTorah, Noach.

[18] See Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim, Chap 50, 51.

[19] Tsavo’ath HoRivosh (Ba’al Shem Tov).

[20] Shulchon Oruch, Orach Chaim, 93:1, 98:1.

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