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Thought for the Day: Kavana in T'fila is Pirush haMilos; No, Really!

When a friend of mine was in the dorms in college, he... oh heck, it was me, ok?  Anyway, I was a junior in with a bunch of freshmen (longish story, not so interesting) and was a physics major.  So I was looked as a nerd, but smart and therefore a good resource.  Not much different than now, I suppose. Anyway, a friend of mine (no, really this time I mean a friend) wanted to install a dimmer switch in his dorm room.  The problem was that we didn't have access to the circuit breaker panel (it was locked up) and the instructions clearly said (in big red letters, I may add) that power had to be turned off before attempting installation.  Undaunted, I said, "Don't worry; I know physics and can figure out how to do this without shutting off that power."  The ensuing minor explosion was dramatic and no one got hurt.  My pride took quite a hit, of course, especially since the story of my bluster and failure was enshrined in permanent ink around the doorway.  For years.

The Shulchan Aruch, OC 98 says that when davening a person should:
  1. Have in mind the simple meaning of the words that are coming out of his mouth.
  2. Regard himself as standing in the presence of the Divine Shechina.  Further, imagine how he would feel standing in front of a human king; so how much more so now that he is standing in front of G-d Himself who knows his innermost thoughts.
  3. Know that the earlier generations would come close to the level of prophesy when davening.
Ok... which is it?  The meaning of the words, standing in front of G-d, or flying to the heights of spirituality and hob-knobbing with the angels?

The Mishna Brura says that (2) and (3) do not contradict (1); they simply give you an idea of how important (1) is. In fact, that Mishna Brura says that all the kavanos mentioned in various places about t'fila are for before davening; that is impossible to daven properly if you are having those thoughts.  Worse, knowing a little bit (like a failed electrician I know) can actually cause big problems.  Davening is powerful stuff and those kavanos are powerful; in the hands/minds/hearts of simple folk they are downright dangerous.  In fact those who really know kabala (according to the Mishna Brura) daven like an innocent child -- no deep thoughts, just the simple meaning of the words. Not eight meanings, not inner meanings; the simple pshat.

I know; that takes all the excitement out of it.  On the other hand, doing things the way HaShem wants them done would also seem to have some merit.


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