Chapter 5: How to pray-Kavana & Loudness

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Chapter 5: How to pray-Kavana & Loudness[1]

The importance of Kavana in Davening:[2]

Concentration during prayer is of such importance, that praying without basic concentration is considered worthless. This is unlike all other Mitzvos in which the concentration is external to the performance of the Mitzvah, however, by prayer the concentration is an integral ingredient of the Mitzvah. Davening without Kavana is like a body without a soul.[3]

  The form of Kavana:
  1. With Tachanunim-Not to turn one’s Davening into a mere matter of routine:[4]

One is not to make his Davening into an everyday routine task simply for the sake of fulfilling his obligation, as doing so treats the prayer similar to a burden which one desires to rid himself of. Rather one is to pray with merciful supplications before G-d, like a subject who is making a request before his King. Likewise the wording should be said in a way of supplication like a poor man who is asking for food.

  1. Concentration and clarity of mind:[5]

Upon praying, one is required to arouse his concentration and remove all bothersome thoughts from his mind until his mind is clear for prayer.

The prayer of the Chassidim Harishonim: In compliance with the above, the Chassidim Harishonim would seclude themselves and concentrate on their prayers until they reached a state of removal from all worldly matters and have an intense control of their intellectual spirit until they would reach close to the level of prophecy.

  1. Contemplate G-d’s greatness before Davening:[6]

Prior to Davening one is required to contemplate the loftiness of G-d and lowliness of man and remove all the worldly pleasures from his heart. [The contemplation prior to davening on the greatness of Hashem must be done in a deeply focused way which will bring one to actual realization that he is standing before G-d. Therefore, it’s not enough to just contemplate in a passing method. This contemplation is required also prior to Mincha and Maariv.]

  1. Picturing oneself standing in front of the divine presence:[7]

One who is praying, is required to view himself as if the Shechina is resting in front of him.

  1. Standing in front of the king:[8]

One is to contemplate that the same way if he were before a physical king he would concentrate on his words, certainly one must do so before G-d who sees even through one’s thoughts and to whom a person’s thought is similar to a person’s speech.

  1. Pirush Hamilos-Knowing the words of Davening:[9]

One is required to have in his mind the meaning of the words which he is reciting in prayer. Thus, it is imperative that one at the very least concentrate on the meaning of the words. If one is unable to concentrate on the meaning of the words, then he is to think of matters which humble the heart and focus one’s mind on his father in heaven.

  1. Banishing distracting thoughts:[10]

*See Chapter 2 Halacha 8 for the full details of this subject!

In the event that one is distracted by foreign thoughts during prayer, then one is to stop praying until the thought is banished from his mind.

  The law if one Davened without Kavana:

Shema:[11] One must concentrate on the words of the first verse of the Shema and the verse of Baruch Sheim Kevod Malchus, and this is the main requirement of concentration during the Shema reading. If one did not concentrate on the meaning of the words upon reciting the first verse of Shema or the verse of Baruch Sheim, then he must repeat the verse with concentration. Whenever one is required to repeat the Shema due to lack of concentration, then if one is together with other people, then it is to be repeated quietly in order so it does not appear to those present as if he is accepting two deities. If the person only remembered his lack of concentration of the first verse of Shema, after he already began reading the paragraph of Viahavta, then he must repeat from the beginning. [However, if one said the first verse with concentration, but did not say the verse of Baruch Sheim with concentration, then if he already began reading of the paragraph of Viahavta, then seemingly he is not to repeat at all.]

Shemoneh Esrei:[12] One who did not concentrate upon reciting the words of the blessing of Avos is required to repeat the prayer. However, in today’s times we no longer repeat the prayer due to lack of concentration, as it is highly possible that one may not be successful in concentrating during his repetition.

Davening out loud:[13]

Although it states in the Talmud and Poskim that one is not allowed to pray out loud, this refers specifically to the prayer of Shemoneh Esrei, while by the other sections of prayer, not only may one pray them out loud, but furthermore is encouraged and praised for doing so. Furthermore, even regarding Shemoneh Esrei it is ruled that one may pray out loud for the sake of increasing his concentration, if he is not present by a minyan, and thus certainly one may and should pray the other sections of prayer out loud for the sake of increasing concentration, and doing so is permitted even when one is with a Minyan. Nonetheless, one should not scream the prayer in a way that will disturb everyone else’s concentration.

Chabad custom: The recommended Chabad custom, which follows the directives of the Chabad Rabbeim, is to pray out loud in order to help with one’s concentration.

Davening by heart:

A. The Halachic issue:[14]

It is forbidden to recite by heart parts of the written Torah which most people do not know by heart. However, the custom is to allow reciting by heart the Song of the Sea (Shiras Hayam), Songs which contain verses, the Tamid paragraph, the Shema paragraph, and psalm, as these paragraphs are known by most people by heart. Furthermore, some Poskim rule that it is only forbidden to recite by heart parts of the written Torah when ones recitation assists another person to fulfill his obligation. Accordingly, one should not protest those people who say to themselves verses by heart even if they are not well known.

May a blind person pray, and learn the written Torah by heart? According to all opinions, a blind person may recite any part of Torah by heart.

Tehillim:[15] According to all, one may say Tehillim by heart.

B. The recommendation:[16]

Some are accustomed to specifically pray from within the Siddur for greater concentration, and some are accustomed to specifically Daven by heart with their eyes closed for greater concentration. Practically, whether one should pray by heart with his eyes closed, or from reading from the Siddur is dependent on whatever will help one have greater concentration which may fluctuate from day-to-day. Nonetheless, even one who chooses to pray with his eyes closed should at least have the Siddur open in front of him.

6. Shuckling during Davening:[17]

It is customary, especially amongst the meticulous, to move their bodies and Shuckle during prayer.


[1] See Shulchan Menachem 1:49; Shaareiy Tefila p. 19 and onwards; Tefila Kehilchasa Chapter 5; Isheiy Yisrael Chapter 11; Piskeiy Teshuvos 98:1-8

[2] Admur 101:5; Rambam Tefila 4:1; Likkutei Sichos 22:117; Igros Kodesh 8:332; 14:60

[3] See Tanya chapter 38

[4] See Admur 98:3; Michaber 98:1; Brachos 29b; Mishneh Avos 2:13; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:13; Piskeiy Teshuvos 98:8

[5] Admur 98:1; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:15

[6] Admur 98:1; Sichas 1 MarCheshvon 1982; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:15

[7] Admur 98:1; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:15

[8] Admur 98:1; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:15; Piskeiy Teshuvos 98:3

[9] Admur 98:1; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:15; Piskeiy Teshuvos 98:2

[10] Admur 98:1; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:15; Piskeiy Teshuvos 98:4

[11] See Admur 63:5

[12] Admur 101:1-4; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:16

[13] Admur 101:2-3; Brachos 31a; Yerushalmy Brachos chapter 4; Tur/Michaber 101; Shlah p. 250a; M”A 101:3; Kaf Hachaim 101:57; Piskeiy Teshuvos 51:20; Tanya Igeres Hakodesh 22; Tanya Kuntrus Achron-end; Igros Kodesh Admur Hazakein letter 10 and 82; Mittler Rebbe: Toras Chaim Parshas Teruma p. 309; Igros Kodesh Admur Haemtzai p. 263; Toras Chaim Pekudei p. 458; Shaareiy Teshuvah 43; Sichos Kodesh 5752 Parshas Beshalach p. 594

[14] Admur 49; Ketzos Hashulchan 14:2

[15] Beir Heiytiv 49 in name of Chavos Yair; Ketzos Hashulchan 14:2; Hayom Yom

[16] Admur 49; Ketzos Hashulchan 14:2

[17] See Admur 93:1; M”B 93:2; Igros Kodesh 18:121; Piskeiy Teshuvos 93:2

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