Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Most of us, upon blunt and honest reflection, will sheepishly and ashamedly admit to ourselves that our prayers are very sub-par. We realize to our dismay that even though we’ve been praying for decades, we don’t even know what all the words mean or we do not understand how to connect the different sentences into a meaningful whole. Rather, we say them like a totally disjointed formula.

And, if only this were the sum total of the problem, it would be okay. But regularly, we are not only ‘not-paying’ attention to the meaning of the words, zipping through them like looking for a number in the phone book, but we are not even focusing on the fact that we are talking to G-d. Rather, we open up the siddur to dispense with an obligatory thrice-daily ritual, without any meaningful conversation with Hashem whatsoever.


How sad this is! What a tremendous waste!

The Rambam teaches us that we know the mitzvah of prayer from the verse, “Ul’avdo b’chol levav’vechem,” to serve Hashem with all your heart. The commentaries note that G-d did not give us the mitzvah of prayer with the popular term l’hispalel, to pray, or with the command v’dibarta, to speak, but rather with the unusual phraseology, l’avdo, to work with the heart. This choice of words is meant to convey that the fulfillment of real prayer is only when we put our heart into it. Indeed, the Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim, says that lip-service without any heart involvement is not considered prayer at all. For many of us, this perhaps means we haven’t prayed in decades!

The saintly Shaloh HaKodesh, of blessed memory, writes that you could break people down into two distinct groups. There are those who when they pray, they pray to Hashem; and when they bless, they bless Hashem. Then there are those who pray but Hashem is nowhere in their thoughts, and when they bless they are not focusing on blessing anyone. The first group, he says, is very few indeed and can be counted even by a little child. The second is very numerous, like locusts and he, the Shaloh, hopes he is never included in the second group.

To dramatize further the great misfortune of prayer without kavanah, let me share with you a chilling suppositional story. Yankel Chaim passed away at the ripe age of ninety-three. Now it is Yankel Chaim’s turn to face Hashem in judgment. Yankel Chaim was a decent fellow, a kind husband, a good father. He had fixed times for Torah study, attended shul regularly, greeted his fellow man with a smile, gave charity. Therefore, he was greeted very pleasantly at the Heavenly Gates. But when his turn came to face the Almighty, he said to Hashem, “Master of the Universe, I have one question for You. I believe with absolute certainly that all You did for me during my lifetime was for the best. But why, Hashem, with your unlimited source of Heavenly wealth, couldn’t You have made my parnassah a little easier? Why did I have to struggle so mightily to make ends meet? Why did I have to move around from job to job and suffer under the verbal whips of many a merciless and insensitive employer? After all, Hashem, I was always a loyal soldier in Your army. Couldn’t You have greased the wheels of life a little better for me?”

Listen closely my friends to Hashem’s answer to Yankel Chaim. “My dear Yankel Chaim, it’s really quite simple. You see, when you went to work for Me, (after all, you know that the work of the heart is prayer), you were a very poor employee. You used to come to shul and when you davened, you didn’t even talk to Me. When you were praying on Shabbos, you thought about the Kiddush after davening, the sleep after the meal. During the week in the morning, you contemplated your clients and, in the evening, you thought about what you were going to have for supper. This kind of work, Yankel Chaim, was what you did for Me for decades. And you know, on earth, I always judge measure for measure. That’s why, when it came to your work, you were fated to have such a bumpy time.”

I believe this is another meaning of the popular saying, “Daven for parnassah.” It doesn’t simply mean that you should pray for a better livelihood. Rather, more profoundly, our davening is a link to our livelihood, because if we work diligently for Hashem in prayer, then Hashem will afford us wonderful working opportunities.

What exactly does the “Work of the Heart” mean? The Avudraham explains that the work of prayer is to free our minds from all worldly distractions, focusing on talking to our Creator and concentrating on what we are saying to Him. In this vein, the Vavei Ha’Amudim explains that prayer is truly like a sacrifice, since by the korban we had to flay it before putting it upon the alter. So too, we must strip all exterior thoughts from ourselves, working to concentrate only upon the One above.

The Avudraham then adds an adage which you might want to consider inscribing on the flap of your siddur. He states simply, “L’fi rov hakavanah, t’kubal ha’tefillah,” in direct proportion to the amount of concentration is the effectiveness of our prayer. This is very good news for most of us. It means that if, until now, our prayers have been very flippant and shallow, we have a grand opportunity to drastically improve our lives immediately with more meaningful prayer.

The awesome Menoras HaMeor writes that, when one steels himself to pray with proper kavanah, he creates for himself a time of special favor with Hashem which helps greatly with the acceptance of his prayers. Perhaps this is the meaning of the verse, “V’ani tefillasi lecha Hashem eis ratzon – And I, if my prayers are focused on You Hashem, will create a special time of favor.”

The Midrash tells us that because of Aaron’s unwitting participation in the sin of the Golden Calf (and because of the strict justice meted out to the righteous), he was supposed to lose all four of his children. However, since he prayed with kavanah, Hashem cut the punishment in half. He therefore lost two of his children, Nadav and Avinu. The commentaries teach, extrapolating for this Midrash, that who one prays thrice daily with real kavanah, he can cut any punishment he was supposed to get down to an eighth of its original amount. The calculation is quite simple. Shacharis cuts it down to a half, Mincha further cuts it to a quarter, and Maariv decimates it to a relatively tiny eighth. Thus, we see what a powerful difference real prayer can make in our daily lives.

In the merit of our working diligently on our prayers, may Hashem answer all our prayers and bless us with good health, happiness and everything wonderful.


Transcribed and edited by Shelley Zeitlin.


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Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss is now stepping-up his speaking engagement and scholar-in-residence weekends. To book him for a speaking circuit or evening in your community, please call Rabbi Daniel Green at 908.783.7321. To receive a weekly cassette tape or CD directly from Rabbi Weiss, please write to Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss, P.O. Box 658 Lakewood, New Jersey 08701 or contact him at [email protected]. Attend Rabbi Weiss’s weekly shiur at Rabbi Rotberg’s Shul in Toms River, Wednesday nights at 9:15 or join via zoom by going to and entering meeting code 7189163100, or more simply by going to Rabbi Weiss’s Daf Yomi shiurim can be heard LIVE at 2 Valley Stream, Lakewood, New Jersey Sunday thru Thursday at 8 pm and motzoi Shabbos at 9:15 pm, or by joining on the zoom using the same method as the Chumash shiur. It is also accessible on Kol Haloshon at (718) 906-6400, and on To Sponsor a Shiur, contact Rav Weiss by texting or calling 718.916.3100 or by email [email protected]. Shelley Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.