Rav Aryeh Kaplan: Preparations Part Two
Davening and Prophecy: Shedding the Physical: The two incidents brought to mind a phrase that I had seen in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law; 98:1) in reference to the
Chassidim Harishonim (pious men of old) who made a practice of being misboded before they recited the Amida. This was similar to the Rambam’s comment that the prophets would be misboded when they want to attain prophecy, suggesting a link between davening and the prophetic state.
Understanding the word misboded, which is fascinating in itself, is a key to preparing for tefilla. Literally, misboded means to isolate oneself, from the root boded, meaning “to be alone”. But, as the Rambam’s son Rabbi Avraham points out (in his Sefer Hamaspik), self-isolation can be external or internal. External isolation is simply leaving society and being by oneself. By contrast, “internal isolation” consists of “a cessation of activity on the part of the perceptive faculty . . . isolating it from the soul.” The Ralbag (Rabbi Levi Ben Gershon) echoes this and writes that being misboded “requires the isolation of the consciousness from the imagination, or of both (the consciousness and the imagination) from the other perceptive mental faculties.”
This fits well with the Shulchan Aruch’s comment about attaining “divestment from the physical” (hispashtus hagashmius) through the Amida. Totally divorced from the physical, one would be more ready to be in tune with the spiritual. This seems to offer an approach to attaining in a genuine the very experience that people sought from Eastern types of meditation, but could only achieve in a shallow way.
It has been said that many people never develop in their davening past the ten-year-old level. While this might be true generally, there are surely others who do attain levels of concentration suggested by the Shulchan Aroch. I consulted with many great rabbis and tzaddikim for hints on how to daven effectively. In addition, I searched through every available sefer that dealt with the subject, especially the commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch. Gradually a pattern began to emerge.