We live in a world dominated by thoughts of Covid-19 and the vaccine designed to combat it.
The Torah teaches us, “And you should serve (work for – va’avadtem) Hashem, your G-d, and He will bless your bread and your water. He will remove sickness from your midst. No one will bury their children in their lifetime. You will be spared barrenness in your land and I will fulfill the quota of your years.”
This pasuk offers us the ultimate medical insurance, which we can acquire as long as we pay our premium and “work for Hashem.” But what exactly is the nature of this work? The Sefer HaIkrim maintains that it’s praying. As the Gemara states (Taanis 2b), “What is the work of the heart? Prayer.”
The Baal HaTurim points out that most of the 53 directives in Parshas Mishpatim are written in the singular. However, the word “va’avadtem” in the verse above is written in the plural. Why? Because, explains the Baal HaTurim, the word refers to praying, and the most effective form of prayer is davening with a minyan (with many people – plural, not by oneself – singular). In any event, we see that the Baal HaTurim also understands “va’avadtem” to mean praying.
The next question is: What exactly about praying constitutes work? The Avudraham writes that it requires work “to remove thoughts that are occupied with the mundane affairs of the world and to focus our concentration on our devotion to Hashem.” Thus, the key to all the Divine promises of freedom from sickness is having proper kavanah in davening.
The Avudraham caps his explanation with an incredible gematria: “tefillah” numerically equals 515, as does “b’kavanas ha’leiv – with concentration of the heart.”
In light of the above, we can better appreciate why talking in shul is so improper. For while a devoted worshiper is working hard to purge his thoughts of daily living, others are actively engaged in discussing life’s trivialities. The saintly Chovos Halevovos makes the powerful declaration that prayer without kavanah is like a peel without fruit and a body without a soul.
The Hafla’ah takes this statement one step further. He writes that since we want our prayers to rise to the heavens, they must be infused with a ruach, a spirit that causes them to ascend to Hashem’s Throne of Glory. But without kavanah, a tefillah is like a body without a spirit and thus cannot rise to the heavens.
With the help of Hashem, may we be inspired to pray with full kavanah and, in that merit, may we earn all the promises of the verse we’ve been discussing.