We’ve all been there… your baby kept you up at night… you don’t feel well… your kids don’t feel well… your toddler is throwing a tantrum… you need to get to work… your house looks like a hurricane just passed through… on some special occasions, it could several of these things together.
You pick up the siddur, and you can’t even focus on what you are saying in the tefillas, let alone see the words.
Everyone goes through these moments regardless of who they are or how connected to HaShem they are. The question is what should you be doing at these times? Should you fight through the fog and struggle to maintain some kind of kavannah? After all, aren’t we told that a tefilla without kavannah is like a body without a soul (Yeshuos Meshicho 14:1)? How about just resigning ourselves to the fact that this tefilla is going nowhere and either rushing to finish it or simply closing the siddur in the middle and walking away?
Flat Tefillas Are a Test of Emunah
We actually have the power to completely turn around a difficult davening with one simple change in our kavannah. The truth is these flat, disconnected tefillas hold enormous potential as a way for us to enhance our emunah in HaShem.
A while back, a friend of mine pointed out to me that it is much easier to believe HaShem is listening to our tefillas when our hearts are open and the tears are flowing down. At such times we may even feel HaShem’s Presence. It takes much more emunah, however, to really believe that HaShem is listening in even to these unfocused, emotionless tefillas. It takes even more emunah to believe that these same tefillas are having any positive impact Above.
A group of people once asked the Baal Shem Tov why his tefillas were immediately accepted and fulfilled yet for them their tefillas have no effect in Heaven. He answered them with the following story:
A prince once lost his way and strayed into a pasture where a shepherd tended his sheep. The shepherd had mercy on the prince and took him home. He had no food, however, to offer the hungry and tired prince, so he spread his cleanest cloth neatly on the table and lay his cleanest blanket down on the ground, respectfully begging that the prince lie down to rest.
When the prince’s servants found him and brought him back to the palace, the prince demanded that the shepard be brought before him. He displayed such esteem for the shepherd that the prince’s servants exclaimed, “Your Highness, do we not obey your every wishes? Why do you show such respect for this simple shepherd who did not even give you a crust of bread when you were starving?”
“True!” replied the prince, “all the honor I bestow upon him is only payment for the clean white table cloth and clean blanket he spread for me.” (Shoshanim LeDovid 82)
HaShem wants you to do the best you can, but he doesn’t expect the impossible. If you were hoping to have a good davening, and you made a real effort, but it just didn’t go that way, then there is little reason to be sad.
Chazal tell us if one planned to do a mitzvah and was prevented against his will, HaShem views this as if he had done the mitzvah anyway.
…מחשבה טובה מצרפה למעשה
אמר רב אסי אפילו חשב אדם לעשות מצוה ונאנס ולא עשאה
מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו עשאה
A good thought is regarded as a [good] deed…
Rav Assi said: Even if a person was contemplating fulfilling a mitzvah
and was unavoidably prevented from performing it,
Scripture credits him as if he fulfilled it.
But, there is a subtle point here that many may miss. HaShem views a unfulfilled attempt at doing as mitzvah it as if he had done it with perfect connection and focus. If you merited to daven with completion and humility, then you should really be filled with joy!
If you have an experience of feeling “open”, clear, or close to HaShem during tefilla, then realize that it is a gift that HaShem has given you for motivation and encouragement. When you don’t have such an experience, it is a test of emunah and an opportunity to come closer to HaShem that many Jews don’t even realize.
At any point during or after your tefillas, you have the choice to mentally “take a step back.” You can take a moment to reaffirm your desire to connect to HaShem and your belief in the fact that He is there and listening even if you don’t feel it, and even if you are having difficulty focusing on the words in the siddur. If you have this thought and and truly work on believing in it, then you have just uplifted your tefillas and your experience around them.