Based on a Naaleh.com 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.