Monday, June 15, 2009

You Are Where Your Thoughts Are -Friday Night Davening

Ramban, Igeres Hakodesh, Ch. 5 - "You are where your thoughts are."

On Friday afternoon, I was working on getting an assignment done at the firm where I am engaged in an intense associateship for the summer. It was just about time for me to catch my intended train home and the copy center had just returned some materials I needed in order to turn in my work. I realized that I needed a three-hole-puncher before I could include the last section necessary to make the project complete. So I quickly ran to find one when I found a kind hearted secretary who generously offered her extra hole puncher so that I could finish my assignment and run to the train.

But just at that moment, I felt someone punch me on the chest. Before I even had time to react, though, whoever it was did it again. After taking a moment to get oriented, I realized that I was in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei back in Shul on Friday night, and that I was hitting my own chest during the beracha of "Slach Lanu."

Unfortunately, my mistake was not only that my head was back at work when it should have been in davening. But even worse (?), it was ma'ariv on Shabbos night and I was saying the weekday davening.

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, in the 6th perek of Da Es Atzmecha, says that one understands why "one his where his thoughts are" with a correct perspective of who one really is. If I am in Shul, but I'm thinking about work, and I perceive that I am a body, with a neshoma inside, I would think that I (my body) is actually in Shul, but that it is only my thoughts that are at work. But the truth is that I am a neshoma that is "wearing" a body. So when I am in Shul, but thinking about work, it is only my clothing, my body, that is in Shul. But my mind is still at working when that's what I'm thinking about.

Of course it's the same thing al tzad hatov. When I'm at work but thinking about being in the beis medresh, then the true "I" is in Shul.

Friday night, I was able to use the "wake up call" to focus on the davening more than I probably would have, had I not committed my double thoughtless-ness. IY"H, we should all be zocheh that our thoughts should be where we belong.


A Simple Jew said...

Dixie Yid: There have been times recently when I am in the process of eating and I have to recall whether when I made the brocha.

While I know that I had said one - I still couldn't remember saying it.

This certainly sends me the wake up call that if I can't remember saying the brocha to begin with, I know that my kavana was almost non-existent and I need to redouble my efforts to be more mindful in the future.

Akiva Ben Canaan said...

My psychologist wife likes to talk about "mindfulness," which means the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment.

The example she likes to use involves eating a chocolate chip cookie - focusing on the texture, chewing it slowly, living entirely in that moment (and in that cookie!).

Maybe its just a fancy way of describing kavana.

Neil Harris said...

You're not alone.

Anonymous said...

thank you for being so brutally honest to help others

Menashe said...

If it makes you feel any better I think it would be difficult to find someone alive today to whom this doesn't sometimes happen to.

I have one worse for you. At least the slach lanu woke you up. One shabbos morning my mind was obviously elsewhere for so long that I didn't realize I had davened the entire weekday psukei dzimrah. They're only tehillim and many of them are in the shabbos davening anyway but it was shocking that I went for a full 10-15 minutes without realizing it.

Or the times I only washed my hands and out of habit left the bathroom saying asher yatzar.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Thank y'all. I appreciate the chizuk.


I've heard of that idea before and it definitely would be a step up from the mindlessness that is especially prevelant in this generation. But as a long term solution, it is totally focused on the present "reality" of olam hazeh. I've also heard that idea expressed as a Buddhist practice, though obviously being mindful isn't inherently a Buddhist practice.

Menashe, thanks. My Rosh Yeshiva in YU also shared a story about one of the mispalelim in his Shul who was halfway through winding his tefillin at a "minyan factory" in Flatbush when all of a sudden he realized that he couldn't remember whether he was winding his tefillin to put them on before davening or winding them to take them off after davening! He didn't know whether he was allowed to daven, if he had already. My R"Y told him to daven "again" because even if he had davened, he had absolutely no intent. Crazy, eh? Hashem ya'azor!

ha-ha said...

Ok, I have even a better one for you: When bentching on rosh chodesh, I once cought myself trying to bow down, and it felt really weird, as I was sitting at a table! Then I realized, that after Yaale v'yavo I had continued into r'tze and modim of shmona esre, instead of bentching. And I only "woke up" when I tried to bow while sitting at a table!

All joking aside, did anyone think about what the Rambam sais in hilchot tefila 4:15 (especially the second part, starting with "matza daato...")

With all due respect to the YU rosh yeshiva, I think the man should've been told to take a nap (or even a vacation) before davening "again", because he's not gonna have any kavana the second time either.

yitz said...

Sorry for the delayed comment... but
#1, thank you so much for the source of this, the Ramban. This idea is expressed as one of the Ikarei HaChassidus, as the Baal Shem Tov is attributed with this:
מקום שמחשבתו של אדם מגעת, שם הוא כולו
Where a person's thoughts reach, that where his entirety is.

And to console us all, as mentioned above we all have such moments, is this anecdote about the Baal Shem:
Someone once came to him & complained that he has tried so hard, and yet hasn't accomplished anything, he remains a boor [hedyot].
The Baal Shem replied: "You have indeed accomplished something - to be shafal b'einecha - humble in your own eyes.