Prayer Skills: Tzidkat HaTzaddik: Concentration
The 9th of Elul is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Tzadok HaKohen Rabinowitz of Lublin: Fantasies especially threatening to overcome us during prayer. This is the “lack of devotion in prayer,” of which the rabbis said, that we cannot escape from them every day (Bava Batra 164b). Tosafot (Rabbeinu Tam, who defines Iyun Tefillah as ‘lack of devotion,’) and the and the Ran (Rosh Hashanah 16b) cite the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 2:4: Kavnit, referring to Kavanah, means, in this context, concentration of thought on what is being recited, or devotion to the task at hand), “Rabbi Chiyya said: I have never in my life achieved devotion in prayer,” and take it literally.
However, it is implausible to say this of such great men, especially Rabbi Chiyya, about whom it was related that when he prayed “You cause the wind to blow in the rain to fall,” a wind began blowing and rain started falling (Bava Metzia 85b).
The phrase, “I never had devotion,” may be interpreted to mean, “I never felt a need for it.” The Halacha requiring concentration was meant for those who are liable to be distracted by fantasies and stray thoughts; those whose tongue says one thing while their heart is elsewhere. Rabbi Chiyya, however, never experienced any other thought except the Presence of God before him, and when ever he spoke he was conscious of addressing the King of Kings. In consequence, he had no need for concentrated devotion at any specific time.
“One day I attempted Kavanah,” refers to a time when he was particularly troubled by his thoughts. Perhaps it was the day when the prophet Elijah caused him and his son’s anxiety during their prayers. At that time he tried hard to direct and settle his thoughts properly, but to no avail because the distraction came from heaven. (Tzidkat haTzaddik #209)