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Sources of Distraction

What's for Supper?

While studying in Europe, Rav Elya Lopian was part of an exclusive mussar group. Each day his group met for the purpose of scrutinizing each other’s actions. Some of the members of this group later became great Torah personalities.

One day Rav Lopian told the group that he could no longer participate in their exclusive meetings. The group members were surprised, for Rav Elya was one of the most righteous and dedicated members. What had prompted this change?

Tearfully, Rav Elya confessed his transgression to them. Once, during Maariv, he thought about whether they would have potatoes for supper. After such a complete disgrace of tefillah, he no longer felt worthy to be part of this mussar group.

Unfortunately, what was a one-time exception for Rav Elya Lopian is commonplace for some of us. It is much easier for us to focus on what we will have for dinner than on our tefillah, and we are satisfied when we are able to achieve a minimum level of concentration during tefillah.

Holding On

When a person is holding something, his concentration is divided between grasping that item and whatever else he is doing. Therefore, when speaking to an important person, one does not carry anything in his hand. For this reason, Chazal tell us not to hold items during tefillah (Mishbetzos Zahav 96,2).

“A person may not hold tefillin or a sefer Torah during prayer, lest he drop them. Similarly, he may not hold a plate of food or a loaf of bread [lest they fall and get dirty], money [lest it fall and get lost], or a knife [lest it fall and injure him]” (Berachos 23b, Shulchan Aruch 96,1). These items are especially distracting, since a person will certainly be preoccupied with ensuring that they remain intact. Thus, some authorities rule that these objects specifically should not be held during prayer (Magen Avraham 96,1). Others extend this prohibition to other items as well (Taz 96,1).

Some say that if one has recited Shemoneh Esrei while holding an object he should repeat his tefillah (Bach 96,1). The practical halachah is otherwise, so unless the person hadn’t concentrated on the first berachah of Shemoneh Esrei because he was holding something, he does not repeat his tefillah (Mishnah Berurah 96,2). We have learned that ordinarily one wouldn't repeat Shemoneh Esrei despite lack of concentration, lest the next tefillah also be without intention. However, in this case he is obligated to repeat his prayer, since we can trace the source of his deficiency

One should be careful and refrain from holding anything during the entire prayer. From the beginning of Pesukei D’zimra until the end of tefillah a person should not keep anything in his hand, making every effort to concentrate on tefillah and not to get distracted by other matters (Mishbetzos Zahav 96,1).


Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org


 

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