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Weekly Halacha

Selected Halachos relating to Parshas Pekudei

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt

The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.

As Hashem had commanded Moshe (40:19)


Shmonei Esrei, the tefillah which we recite three times a day, derives its name from the eighteen brachos which compose it. Why eighteen? The Talmud (1) explains that this number corresponds to the eighteen times it says in this week's parsha "As Hashem had commanded Moshe," referring to Moshe's precise compliance of the laws of the Mishkan. Apparently, the Talmud is alluding to a relationship between the holy Mishkan where the daily sacrifices were brought, and our tefillos. Both of these forms of worship need to be performed exactly as commanded, with the proper intentions, kavanah. Moreover, just as an improper intention invalidates a korban, so do improper thoughts invalidate a tefillah. Since the two most important parts of our davening, Krias Shema and Shmone Esrei, also require the most kavanah, let us focus on them:


 What type of kavanah is needed?

There are two types of kavanah that are required for Krias Shema. The first is the kavanah needed to be yotzei the mitzvah of reciting Krias Shema: Before beginning to recite Shema, one should have the intention of fulfilling mitzvas Krias Shema. Although one who recites Shema as part of his daily davening has an "automatic" degree of kavanah to be yotzei - why is he reciting Shema just now if not to be yotzei the mitzvah of Krias Shema - nevertheless, it is proper to be expressly mechaven to be yotzei the mitzvah (2).

The second type of kavanah required is to understand the basic meaning of the words being recited. One who recites Shema but does not understand what he is saying, has not fulfilled the mitzvah.

 Which part of Krias Shema requires kavanah?

L'chatchillah, one should understand the basic meaning of the entire Krias Shema. As he pronounces each word, he should have in mind the meaning of the words that he is saying. This requires full concentration, and it is the proper and preferred manner in which to perform this mitzvah. (3)

If it is difficult to achieve such intense kavanah, one fulfills the mitzvah b'dieved even if he only had kavanah for (in order of preference):

  • The first parsha (the parsha of Shema Yisroel); (4)
  • The first three verses of the first parsha (until al levovecha); (5)
  • The first verse of Shema Yisroel and Boruch Shem; (6)
  • The verse of Shema Yisrael. (7)

 What should be done if one failed to concentrate during the first verse of Shema Yisroel?

One who failed to concentrate during the first verse of Shema Yisroel (8) must repeat Shema. Since it is forbidden to repeat a word, (9) or even an entire verse of Shema Yisroel, (10) it is advisable to finish the first parshah and then start again from the beginning. (11) Other poskim allow repetition during Krias Shema [when one failed to be mechaven] if the following two conditions are met: a) It is done quietly enough that no one else can hear; and b) only an entire verse at time may be repeated, single words may not be repeated. (12)

One who remembered - while reciting the second parsha of Krias Shema (V'ehyah Im Shomoa) - that he failed to be mechaven during the recitation of the first verse of Shema Yisroel, should finish the second parshah, repeat the first verse and the first parsha (V'ohavta), and continue on to the third parshah (Vayomer).

If, after davening is over, one remembers that he was not mechaven properly during the first verse of Shema Yisroel, he must repeat the first verse and the first parsha (Vohavta), but no more than that. (13)

 What is the minimum kavanah required for the first verse of Shema Yisroel?

The basic meaning of the first verse of Shema Yisroel combines two themes: 1) Hashem is our G-d, a declaration of accepting Hashem's sovereignty over us, and 2) Hashem is one - a proclamation of His status as the exclusive power controlling the entire world. When reciting Krias Shema, therefore, one must bear in mind the following basic meaning: Hear O Yisroel, Hashem is our G-d and we accept His kingdom, and He is the only G-d - up, down and in all four directions. (14) This is the minimum degree of kavanah which is acceptable. If one did not have this idea in mind when reciting Shema Yisroel, his recitation is invalid and must be repeated as outlined above.

In addition to this basic meaning, there is an additional level of kavanah pertaining to the deeper meaning of the two Names of Hashem mentioned in the first verse. The name 'Hashem' has two meanings: The first meaning is based on the way Hashem's Name is pronounced, Ad-onai, which refers to Hashem as Master of All. The other meaning, based on the manner in which Hashem's Name is written, y-k-v-k, refers to Hashem's essence as the One who was, is, and will always be - timeless and infinite. The Name Elokeinu refers to Hashem being the Almighty, Omnipotent and the Master of all powers. The halachah is that one should bear in mind all of these meanings when reciting the Names of Hashem during Krias Shema. (15) B'dieved, however, one who did not does not need to repeat Krias Shema. (16)


 Which parts of Shmone Esrei require kavanah?

L'chatchillah, one must concentrate on the meaning of all of the words in the entire Shmone Esrei. (17) Sometimes, however, it may be difficult to maintain that level of kavanah. In such a case, one must make an effort to have as much kavanah as possible. We will list, in order of halachic preference, the minimum levels of kavanah which are required. Kavanah is required:

  • For the first brachah (Avos), the brachah of Modim and the ending of each brachah, the chasimas habrachah; (18)
  • During the first brachah and the brachah of Modim. (19)
  • During the first brachah only. (20)
One who is temporarily unable to concentrate even during the first brachah, is advised not to daven just then (21) even if he will miss the halachically correct time for davening. (22) He should rather daven the next tefillah twice, as a tashlumim (makeup).

One who davened but did not have kavanah during the first brachah, has not fulfilled the obligation of davening Shmone Esrei "correctly". (23) He may not, however, repeat the first brachah, since there is a strong possibility that he will not have the proper kavanah the second time either. If, however, he realizes before he finishes the first brachah that he did not have proper kavanah, he should begin anew [from Elokei Avrohom, etc. (24)]. Once he says Boruch ata Hashem, however, he must continue (25) on (26) to recite the rest of Shmone Esrei, (27) with particular concentration on the brachah of Modim. (28)

If one failed to have proper kavanah during the first brachah because of a specific distraction, such as a disruptive child or because he was holding something, he may repeat the first brachah [or the entire Shmone Esrei] once the source of the distraction is gone. (29)

 What can one do if his kavanah is being disturbed?

Proper kavanah is the most important ingredient of davening. Consequently, it sometimes overrides other halachos. Therefore:

If a sefer falls to the floor and that interferes with one's kavanah, he may pick it up after finishing the brachah he is presently reciting. (30) This may be done even if he needs to takea few steps in order to pick up the sefer. (31) If, however, the fallen sefer does not disturb his kavanah, then he may not pick up the sefer during Shmone Esrei. (32)

Each individual needs to judge for himself if it is better for him to daven with a siddur or not, since some people concentrate better if they daven from a text, while others have better kavanah davening with their eyes closed. (33) If one begins davening without a siddur and suddenly requires one in order to continue davening properly, he may go and get one if he knows its exact location. He many not, however, start searching around for a siddur. (34)

If one is davening and is in doubt of a halachah concerning the Shmone Esrei, he may go and look up the halachah in a sefer. If he has no other choice, he may even ask another person what the halachah is. (35) This should be relied upon only when not resolving his question might invalidate the Shmone Esrei. (36)

A child [or an adult (37)] who is disturbing the davening may be signaled to with hand motions. If that does not work, one may walk away from the disruptive child [or walk over to the child to quiet him down (38)], but he may not talk to him in order to quiet him down. (39)

It is proper for a father to show his child where and what to daven before Shmone Esrei begins. Even if this will result in the father not starting his tefillah together with the tzibbur, he should still do so. (40)

If someone is knocking on the door or ringing the bell, or if the telephone rings during Shmone Esrei and it is interfering with his concentration, one may walk to the door and open it, or walk to the phone and lift the receiver off the hook. He may not speak, however. (41)


1 Yerushalmi Brachos 4:3.

2 Mishnah Berurah 60:10 quoting Chayei Adam.

3 Mishnah Berurah 61:1,4,5.

4 Igros Moshe OC 5:5, to fulfill the view of the Tanaim in Brachos 13b who require this.

5 Mishnah Berurah 63:11 quoting Bach.

6 Mishnah Berurah 63:11 quoting Magen Avrohom. According to the view of the Mishnah Berurah, this is the minimum requirement. One who failed to have kavanah during Boruch Shem must repeat the Shema.

7 Aruch Hashulchan 61:6;63:6; Igros Moshe OC 5:5. If he remembers before beginning to recite V'ohavta, then he is required to repeat Boruch Shem. If he remembers after starting V'ohavta, then he is no longer required to repeat Boruch Shem. He may, however, do so provided that he starts Shema all over again.

8 In addition, one must not think other thoughts during Krias Shema, even when not actually saying the words. According to some poskim, those thoughts may constitute a hefsek which may invalidate the Krias Shema - see Mishnah Berurah 63:13 and Biur Halachah 101:1 quoting the Rashba and Igros Moshe OC 5:5.

9 Even bdieved it is possible that one is not yotzei the mitzvah if he repeated a word of Krias Shema - see Biur Halachah 61:9 and Igros Moshe OC 5:5.

10 OC 61:9.

11 Igros Moshe OC 5:5.

12 Mishnah Berurah 61:22,23;63:14.

13 Mishnah Berurah 63:14.

14 In some siddurim there is a reference to 'Hashem being king over the seven heavens'. One should not be mechaven this kavanah - Igros Moshe OC 5:5. See Hebrew Notes for an explanation and discussion.

15 Mishnah Berurah 5:3. Indeed, these meaning should be thought about not only during Krias Shema but each time Hashem's name is mentioned.

16 Igros Moshe OC 5:5.

17 OC 101:1. Some poskim (Yad Hamelech, Rambam Tefillah; Chidushei Reb Chaim Soloveitchik on Rambam Hilchos Tefillah) add that although one is yotzei if he did not concentrate on the meaning of the words, but if during the Shmone Esrei his mind wandered to the degree that he does not realize that he standing in front of Hashem, his tefillah is invalidated. Other poskim (Chazon Ish and Avi Ezri Tefillah 4:6), however, do not agree with this strict interpretation of the halachah.

18 Shulchan Aruch Harav and Mishnah Berurah 101:1 quoting the Tur.

19 Mishnah Berurah 101:3; Daas Torah 101:1.

20 OC 101:1. In addition, one must not think other thoughts during the first brachah of Shmone Esrei, even when not actually saying the words. According to some poskim, those thoughts may constitute a hefsek which may invalidate the brachah - see Mishnah Berurah 63:13 and Biur Halachah 101:1 quoting the Rashba and Igros Moshe OC 5:5.

21 Mishnah Berurah 101:3. See Aruch Hashulchan 101:2 who remains undecided concerning this halachah.

22 Yabia Omer 3:9. One who, for some reason, usually finds himself in a situation in which he cannot have the minimum kavanah, should consult his rav for guidance on how he should conduct himself.

23 OC 101:1. According to the opinion of many poskim, however, it is not considered as if he did not daven at all. Rather it is considered as if he did not daven in the way davening was ordained by our Sages - see Chayei Adam 24:2 (quoted in Biur Halachah 101:1); Chidushei Rav Chaim Halevi on Hilchos Tefillah; Yad Eliyahu 1:8; Pri Yitzchok 2:1; Kaf Hachayim 101:4; Eretz Tzvi 22; Kehilos Yaakov Brachos 26; Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky (quoted in Orach Yisroel pg. 133); Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Siach Halachah pg. 183, 237).

24 Mishnah Berurah 101:4 quoting the Chayei Adam. For an explanation of why one cannot begin from Boruch ata, see Orach Yisroel (pg. 108) quoting Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav Moshe Bik. See also Yabia Omer 3:9-7; 3:10.

25 Some poskim advise that before continuing the Shmone Esrei, one should review the first brachah in his mind and then continue - Orchos Rabbeinu 1:59 quoting the Chazon Ish; Yalkut Yosef pg. 157.

26 It is not advisable to say lamdeini chukecha and start over again - oral rulings by Harav M. Feinstein, Harav Y. Kamenetsky and Harav Y. Roth (quoted in Orach Yisroel pg. 108).

27 See Biur Halachah who advises one to wait and listen carefully to the chazan's repetition of the first brachah during chazoras hashatz. Obviously when davening alone, or during Maariv, this solution would not work. See also Shevet Halevi 1:1, Yabia Omer 3:10 and Orchos Rabbeinu 1:59 for the problem with this approach and that it is not customary to do so.

28 Kehillos Yaakov Brachos 26; Yabia Omer 3:10

29 Shaar Hatzion 96:2.

30 Mishnah Berurah 96:7.

31 Shu"t Be'er Moshe 3:13.

32 Mishnah Berurah 96:7, based on Pri Megadim.

33 Mishnah Berurah 93:2; 95:5; Aruch Hashulchan 93:8.

34 Rama OC 96:2, according to the explanation of Chayei Adam 22:7; 25:9 and Mishnah Berurah 104:2. According to Aruch Hashulchan 96:2, he may not walk to get a siddur even if he knows where one is located. See Hebrew Notes for discussion.

35 Mishnah Berurah 104:2 and Kaf Hachayim 96:11 quoting the Chayei Adam. Several poskim (Reb Shlomo Kluger in Ha'elef Lecha Shlomo OC 50; Eimek Brachah pg. 7) disagree strongly with this ruling - even to merely look in a sefer, much less to ask a question. See Yalkut Yosef pg. 177 who rules like Chayei Adam (concerning looking in a sefer). Beis Boruch 25:22 also agrees with the Chayei Adam,

36 Beis Boruch 25:22.

37 Kaf Hachayim 104:3 quoting Machzik Brachah.

38 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (oral ruling quoted in Tefillah K'hilchasah pg. 247).

39 Mishnah Berurah 104:1. Aruch Hashulchan 101:4 does not permit even using hand signals to quiet a child, much less walking away. See Hebrew Notes for discussion.

40 Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (oral ruling quoted in Avne Yashfe, 2nd edition, pg. 93).

41 Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (oral ruling quoted in Tefillah K'hilchasah pg. 247).

Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc. Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

The Weekly-Halacha Series is distributed L'zchus Hayeled Doniel Meir ben Hinda. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross

The series is distributed by the Harbotzas Torah Division of Congregation Shomre Shabbos, 1801 South Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118--HaRav Yisroel Grumer, Marah D'Asra



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