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Thought for the Day: Prayer -- Concentrate on What You are Saying, Not on What You are Doing

My grandchildren love to help... especially (ok... almost exclusively) when they think it's fun.  My very sweet and charming seven year old granddaughter saw that I had not covered the BBQ, so she decided to replace the lid and then cover it for me.  Great... except I almost fainted when she told me... I have a kettle type BBQ (I eschew gas grills and even charcoal lighter fluid; yes, I am a BBQ snob) that is made of porcelain covered cast iron.  Cooks great... gets very hot... stays very hot for a long time.  I had left it open and uncovered to cool.  I almost fainted when I thought about the disaster that could have happened; namely, third degree burns on my little sweetheart.  Fortunately (Baruch HaShem 1000 and more times), it had cooled enough that she didn't get hurt.  (I had thought I guarded it long enough, but given the potential of such dire consequences, I still panicked.)  Once I was sure she we safe (and gently but firmly chastised), I checked the vinyl cover.  The BBQ had cooled enough so that it, too, was not damaged.  Ok... no harm; and we'll all be more careful.

Do you know that you are doing when you are davening?  You are standing in private and exclusive communication with the Creator... your Creator.  There can be no more valuable way to spend your time than that.  The Creator... your Creator has cleared His agenda to turn His attention to you.  The Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim (93) says that you need to pause before taking your three steps forward to engage in this awe inspiring activity.  (It actually says it is appropriate to take an hour to cleanse your mind of all worldly matters... but we do what we can.)  Now take those three steps forward; with confidence but some trepidation.  Now what?  Here you are, ready to speak directly with the Creator... your Creator... How do you do that?  What do you say?  How do you say it?

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim (98) is entitled: You must be fully engaged and pray with intention.  So what is the big advice?  In English: When one prays, he must fully engage his mind and spirit to know the simple meaning of the words he is saying.

What?  Aren't there huge things going on here?  Unfathomable depth of meaning... layers on layers of kabbalistic meanings?  Indeed there are, which is precisely why you want to concentrate on nothing but the simple meaning of the words.  The Mishna Brura right there gently but firmly chastised any who would do otherwise.  Why?  Precisely because those words and the prayer into which is is set is so extraordinarily powerful.  If you follow the carefully follow the prescription as transmitted to us by those giants -- the Men of the Great Assembly -- then you are doing great things.  If, though, you were to deviate, with such power who knows what damage you could wrought.

But, you'll say, "I am an adult, not a seven year old who barely knows her right hand from her left!  Surely I will be fine."  (Obviously you don't know my granddauther.)  Just for you, the Mishna Brura brings that the ר''ש, said that now that he had learned many of the deeper secrets of kabbalah, he endeavored to pray like a young child; innocent and who knows no more than the plain, simple meaning of the words he is saying.

What damage can the wrong intentions cause?  It would seem to me, that just as the vinyl cover might have gotten ruined, my only real concern was for my granddaughter.  So too, one may very well do damage to the world with incorrect intentions in prayer, but those pale to insignificance compared to the potential damage to one's precious and eternal soul.


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