Rav Aryeh Kaplan: Preparations Part Five
The Four Occasions For Bowing: There is, however, one important exception to this – the four times during the Amida when one is required to bow. It may take a while to appreciate
this, but practical experience will demonstrate how they help one achieve the proper frame of mind for the Amida. The Talmud states that when bowing, one should bend like a rod, and rise up like a snake (Berachos 12b). As the Shulchan Aruch explains, this means that one should bow down quickly, but rise up, head first, very slowly (Orach Chaim 113:6). Observing our senior roshei yeshiva one can see them follow this procedure very closely.
Obviously, there are many very deep reasons for bowing in this fashion. There are meanings, however on a simpler level. When one raises himself very slowly, he is not only slowing down the tempo of his body, he is also putting his mind into a more contemplative framework. The bowing thus has the effect of hushing the mind, and putting it into a more receptive mood for kavana. It is significant that such bowing is required at the beginning of two blessings (together constituting the first Beracha) in the Amida that particularly requires kavana.
Reciting the Amida in this manner is a highly effective means of entering a deep spiritual state. One says the words, especially those of the first Beracha, very slowly, either drawing out the word, or pausing silently after it to permit its meaning to sink in. one should not be thinking of anything other than the simple meaning of the word itself. The word penetrates one’s inner being, and draws him into the spiritual. During the silent pause between words, the mind is hushed in anticipation of the next word.
Once a person has recited the first Beracha (which includes the first two occasions for bowing) in this manner, the rest of the Amida flows relatively easily. It is then much more possible to recite the entire Amida with a feeling of closeness to HaShem, without extraneous thoughts.
One may be under the impression that such achievements are only within the reach of very great tzaddikim. There are, however, many relatively simple people who have learned to daven with such kavana. The very fact that the Amida is said three times every day makes the experience all the deeper through reinforcement. Indeed, experience has borne out that it is something that everyone can do.