Proper Prayer #13

11 08 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Ari Jacobson 

The Mishna in Avot says, “Hevei mekabel et kol adam b’sever panim yafot.” Greet every person pleasantly. Yet the Kitzur writes that just as it is prohibited to eat before praying, one may not greet a person before giving proper respect to Hashem.

The Kitzur says that one may not deliberately knock on a neighbor’s door in order to greet him before one has davened. This is relevant in an apartment building or a college dorm. If one is preparing to pray in shul and another person comes in, one may not purposely walk over and say good morning.

If you happen to meet someone on the way to davening, it’s permissible to greet him. However, it is proper to change the greeting so that it is evident that you cannot continue on with a long conversation. The Gemara distinguishes between giving shalom and saying good morning. The word shalom is one of Hashem‘s names. When you great someone with Shalom Aleichem it’s implying that He who is the purveyor of all peace should be upon you. Therefore, it is considered a more significant greeting than good morning. Similarly, Shabbat Shalom might have connotations in this regard as opposed to Good Shabbas, which might be more permissible.

According to the Shulchan Aruch, going to someone’s house and greeting him with Shalom Aleichem is prohibited before davening. You can say good morning, although we try to avoid that as well. In cases where it’s permitted to offer a greeting, you can say Shalom Aleichem, but it is better to use a different greeting so the person realizes you have to be on your way.


Once the earliest time for davening has arrived, one may not study Torah. The Rishonim give a number of exceptions to this rule. The law only applies if one is studying alone in the house. This is because one may get caught up in learning and miss the times for davening or even forget entirely. If someone else is there he will be reminded. If one is studying in shul or if one attends a regular minyan, there is no concern.

Chazal say that when we stand before Hashem in prayer we should picture ourselves as if we are standing before a king. One should be particular to dress properly for davening. In a place where the custom is to wear a belt, one may not daven without it. There is a prohibition against pronouncing the name of Hashem without a separation between the upper and lower body. If a person is wearing a hospital gown he may press his arms against his waist as a form of separation.

Some people are careful to have special clothing for davening. This is one of the reasons that Chassidim wear a gartel (belt). It serves both as a separation and as a unique article for davening.

It’s appropriate to give tzedaka (charity) prior to davening as the verse says, “Ani b’tzedek echze panecha.” I will greet you with tzedaka. This is the source for the custom to give tzedaka before candle lighting erev Shabbat. In some shuls, many men give tzedaka after the repetition of the shemone esrei. However, it is better to give tzedaka before that and many have a custom to give charity in the middle of Veyavarach David as they say the words “V’ata moshel bakol,” you rule over all. When one gives tzedaka it is as if one is saying, “I believe You have given me all that I have and therefore I will share it with others.”

Prior to davening a person should accept upon himself the mitzva of V’ahavta l’reicha, loving other Jews. If we are united below it creates greater unity above. When our prayers are joined together they are sure to be accepted by Hashem.

One should go to the bathroom before praying. Part of washing negel vasser (ritual hand washing) in the morning is preparation for Shachrit later on. Before davening Mincha you should ideally wash again. If you don’t have water you can cleanse your hands by rubbing them on a hard surface.

Davening with a minyan (quorum) is important; so is praying in shul. Even if a person won’t be attending shul, he should try to daven at the same time the community is davening shemone esrei as the verse states, “V’ani tefilati lecha Hashem eit ratzon.” May my prayers reach You at an opportune time. The Gemara says Hashem doesn’t reject the prayers of a community. When we pray with a minyan individual deficiencies are overlooked.

Hashem promised us that even when the Beit Hamikdash would be destroyed He would provide us with a mikdash me’at, a sanctuary in exile. Therefore, even if there’s no minyan one should try to daven in a shul because the Divine Presence rests there.

Meaningful Prayer: Consistent Dedication

29 06 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Herschel Reichman

Our sages teach that the prayers were enacted to correspond to the sacrifices. The korban tamid, which was brought daily in the beit hamikdash, signifies the idea of dependability and regularity. It is the concept of a continuous relationship, of absolute dedication to Hashem, which is a fundamental aspect of prayer.

We must maintain a continuous connection with our Creator. We are intrinsically bound to Him. We only exist because He wills us to. He supports us in every situation and is constantly providing for us. The Gemara says that a person should never cease praising and thanking Hashem for all that He gives us. Since it’s impossible for a person to pray all the time, the sages instituted a minimum of three times a day. We can also express our ongoing dedication to Him by involving ourselves in kindness and good deeds.

Although we don’t have the korban tamid any more, our steadfast readiness to serve Hashem day after day with dedication and love stands in its stead.

How Can I Make Tefillah Meaningful For My Daughter?

17 01 2012

Rebbetzin’s Perspective I: Class#7

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin's Perspective


My ten year old daughter finds davening boring. I can’t think of ways to inspire her except to tell her that Hashem is waiting to listen to her tefilot (prayers)and that she can ask for anything she wants, like new shoes or clothes. Can you help me with more ideas?



If your daughter is not extraordinarily spiritual, like most ten year olds, she will not like davening. Accept this as appropriate for her stage of development.


Babies start out completely materialistic and as their spirits grow, they become more spiritually attuned. It’ll take a good two years for her to become more sensitized to prayer. All you can do during this time is make davening more appealing and inspiring by teaching her the tunes to some of the tefilot and helping her understand what the words mean. Sometimes communal davening with other people helps too.


Obviously she’ll need a lot of affirmation and appreciation, but ten year olds in general don’t daven with kavanah (intention), so don’t have unrealistic expectations.

How can I increase my kavana (concentration) in tefila?

15 09 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin's Perspective


How can I increase my kavana (concentration) in tefila? Can you provide some practical ideas?



Create an image that speaks to you and use it to guide you through prayer. I’ll suggest one but you can use your own.



Close your eyes and picture yourself as a young child, way before you realized that your parents didn’t have much control over events. Imagine your father or mother telling you, “It’ll be ok.” Take that moment of absolute trust and transfer that feeling to Hashem. Only He cares for you in the ultimate sense and only He can give you what you need. Any image that evokes a feeling of faith, love, reliance, and dependence will work. Take it along with you when you start davening.

It’s difficult to move from an outside action-oriented world to an internal world where you have to feel absolute reliance on Hashem. Try to concentrate on the meaning of the words.


When you say Pisukei D’zimra, visualize drawing Hashem’s infinity into your heart. And when you get to Shemone Esrei, think about Hashem’s omnipotence and recognize that it’s only Hashem’s life force and essence that can give you anything at all.

How Can I Remain Spiritually Uplifted?

9 06 2010

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Achieving Balance:  Class #12Question: I try to make all the mitzvot I perform more meaningful by being mindful to bring Hashem into my life with my heart and concentrating on feeling grateful to Him. But despite this, I usually find myself just going through the motions. The feeling of real closeness to Hashem happens only once in a while and I feel like I need to sense it more.  I have a non-observant sister who practices Eastern Healing.   She is able to get her spiritual high without the obligation of keeping Torah and mitzvot.  Why can’t I experience this same elation from davening and concentrating on brachot?

I suspect your problem is that you don’t see the connection between the mitzvot and how they bring a Jew closer to Hashem. I suggest you study Horeb and Rav Hirsch’s commentary on the Torah. It may be difficult to learn because it was originally written in German and the English translation is somewhat stilted. Get through it anyway. He will show you how the connection works. Once you understand the mechanism, you’ll feel different.
The more you understand the workings of a mitzva and how Hashem’s wisdom is an intricate part of it, the easier it will be to develop that spiritual bond. He knows our souls and defined the mitzvot to create connection. If you can bring your mind into it, it will inform you more than you think.
Eastern healing does this inside out. There’s the external sensation of meaning without reality. People think they are connected but they really aren’t. You can have the feeling of tikun without actual tikun. On the other hand, you can have what really gives you tikun, not necessarily with the accompanying feeling, unless you work to understand it better.

The numerical value of Elokim is hateva, nature. Nature is from Hashem but Hashem is not nature, He’s far more. When you worship nature, which is the essence of Eastern religion, there are consequences. You make Hashem so small that there is no accounting, no World To Come, no direct link, and no prophecy. Embarking on that spiritual path will only lead you downhill. Concentrate on developing a deep understanding of the mitzvot and use that as a springboard to come closer to Hashem.

Prayers of Our Forefathers

31 05 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichmanvisa

Meaningful Prayer is an exciting new series of short classes by Rabbi Hershel Reichman on the meaning and depth of the Shemoneh Esrai prayer. With extra focus on the simple translation of the words, as well as the intent one should have while praying, this course is sure to transform your tefila experience.

Prayer dates back to time immemorial. If we examine the lives of the avot, we find many instances where they davened to Hashem. Avraham beggedHashem to save Sedom, Yitzchak and Rivkah prayed for children, and Yaakov asked Hashem to return him to Eretz Yisrael safe and sound. Although the three prayers we know today were only formally instituted as a rabbinic commandment during the Second Temple era, the custom is ancient and stems from our forefathers.

When we wake up in the morning we should be overwhelmed by the amount of chesed Hashem put into our world. Weather, gravity, botany, and the human body are all wonders of His creation. It is fitting, therefore, that Avraham, the pillar of chesed, instituted Shachrit, the morning prayer.

Yitzchak represents the concept of kviut, unwavering commitment to Hashem. He is the pillar of avoda service. He instituted Mincha, the afternoon prayer, to teach us that although we may be harried and involved in our everyday affairs during the afternoon, we need to step back and focus on our Creator.

The prayer of Yaakov is in times of distress. He communed with Hashem on his perilous journey to Lavan and again when he was about to face Esav, who wanted to kill him. The darkness of night evokes feelings of fright. Yaakov, who instituted Maariv, the evening prayer, teaches us to turn to Hashem in our hour of need.
In a sense, Avraham and Yaakov represent two opposite extremes while Yitzchak is in the middle. Avraham teaches us to thank Hashem when life is full of bountiful goodness and chesed, Yaakov exhorts us to pray when we are drowning in pain and suffering, and Yitzchak tells us that no matter what the situation is, whether good or bad, we must always remain dedicated and loyal to Hashem.

NEW CLASS! Meaningful Prayer: Daily Insights Into the Shemoneh Esrai

12 05 2010 brings you short daily classes on the meaning and depth of the Shemoneh Esrai prayer. This class focuses on the simple translation of the words, as well as the intent one should have while saying them. Sure to enhance your praying experience. Check out the first class on this new series!