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)
OUR DAILY PRAYERS: DO WE HAVE PROPER KAVANAH?
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:
PROPER KAVANAH IN KRIAS SHEMA
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
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);
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
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
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)
PROPER KAVANAH AT SHMONE ESREI
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
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
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
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
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
15 Mishnah Berurah 5:3. Indeed, these meaning should be thought
about not only during Krias Shema but each time Hashem's name is
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
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
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.
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,