In this week’s parshah, Vayikra, the Torah discusses the various offerings one would bring to the Mishkan (and eventually to the Beis HaMikdash – the Holy Temple). In the opening paragraph (Vayikra 1:2), the Torah states: “When a man among you brings an offering to Gd, you should bring your offering from animals – from cattle or from flocks.” In Parshas Vayikra, Hashem’s closeness is revealed to us and we learn how to maintain our relationship with Hashem and how to show our love towards him.
There is an inherent connection between t’filah and korbanos. The Gemara (B’rachos 6b) explains that t’filah is considered the service of Hashem similar to the korbanos (sacrifices) of the Beis HaMikdash. Just as the korbanos served to help man come to the realization of his true essence and to return to Hashem, so, too, does prayer connect man with his inner self, drawing him closer to the true needs and yearnings to Hashem.
However, we must remember that our heart and mind have to be with our davening. Hashem does not want a robot just saying words. T’filos are avodah – hard work, mental conditioning. We have to stay focused on getting closer to Hashem. The focus of the heart and mind are the most difficult, but also the most precious to Hashem.
There is a story told about the Chafetz Chaim, who once noticed that during t’filah, several men were not focused on their davening, and they were highly distracted. At the end of the prayers, the Chafetz Chaim approached these people and shook their hands with the salutation, “Shalom aleichem – Welcome back.” They asked why he was welcoming them when they had not embarked on any journey. He explained that he noticed that during the davening they had “wandered far away” in their thoughts. Therefore, at the end of the t’filah, when they obviously “returned home” to reality, he welcomed them heartily.
The Baal Shem Tov teaches us that if someone who, after davening, is the same as before davening, it is as if he had not davened. If we are not closer to God and a better Jew, then we did not really daven. That is not what Hashem desires.
Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the verb in Hebrew for davening is l’hispalel. It should really be l’faleil, to express. Davening is called l’hispalel because if the act of t’filah does not act on us and change us, then we haven’t davened. Rabbi Lerner explains that we can’t just move our lips without concentrating on what we’re saying. That is why davening with kavanah is all important. Just saying words does not show desire to get close to Hashem; it is the kavanah behind it.
After the coronavirus disappears, b’ezras Hashem, and we are allowed to return to our shuls, our objective with t’filah should be that as we enter the shul, we leave the world: cell phones off and minds turned on. We must be strict with ourselves and make sure we daven from the siddur. Many of us struggle with having kavanah. As we close our eyes to pray, our minds begin to wander. We begin to think about work, family, finances, etc. We must remember that davening is such a gift and gives us the ability to turn to Hashem. We should not waste any opportunities we are given to become closer to Hashem.