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Rav Aryeh Kaplan: Preparations Part Four

To make the Amida a genuine spiritual experience, one must say it slowly. The Talmud relates that the Chassidim Rishonim would spend a full hour (3600 seconds) reciting the Amida.

Since there are approximately 500 words in the Amida, this would allot an average of seven seconds per word. This is an extremely slow pace, but it gives us a frame of reference for understanding that one must daven slowly to attain true kavana. If one begins by taking three or four seconds per word for at least the first blessing, this in itself can be an extremely intense spiritual experience.

Reciting the words slowly always introduces the possibility that one’s mind will wander from the Amida. As soon as one is aware that this is happening, advises the Shulchan Aruch, he should gently push the thoughts out of his mind. At the same time, he might consider the Mezicher Maggid’s teaching that extraneous thoughts enter a person’s mind to teach him what he must rectify through his worship. . . .

It is also important to close one’s eyes, at least during the first Beracha. The Baal Shem Tov taught that when a person is in a state of “constricted consciousness” (mochin de-katnus), one should daven from a siddur. Since one is trying to attain a state of expanded consciousness during the first Beracha, he should say it with his eyes closed.

Another means for helping a person achieve a deep state of kavana is standing absolutely still during the Amida. Many people have the habit of swaying and bowing, but, as Rabbbi Yishaya Horowitz writes, such movement actually interferes with kavana. On a superficial level, swaying and shaking may make a person feel more emotional about the words he is saying, but drawing upon the deepest emotions requires remaining perfectly still. Observing great roshei yeshiva in tefilla would seem to bear this out: they remain perfectly still during the Amida.

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