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The Bach: Prayer Kavanah

The 20th of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yoel Sirkes of Cracow, (the Bach) (1561-1641), author of Bayis Chadash on the Tur, in which he traced each law to its source in the gemarah.

In his youth, he studied under Rav Shlomo Leibush of Lublin and Rav Meshulam Feivush in Brisk. He had several rabbinic appointments throughout Poland, lastly as Chief Rabbi of Cracow in 1619. He was the teacher and father-in-law of Rav Dovid HaLevy, the Taz.

Our Rabbis taught: He who prays must direct his heart towards Heaven.  Abba Shaul says, This is alluded to in the verse (Tehillim 10), “You will direct their heart, and Your ear will listen.”

Rav Yoel Sirkes, in his commentary Bayit Chadash on Tur Orach Chayim (98), asked: Since the need for kavana is mentioned in the verse, why does Abba Shaul call it only an “allusion?”  He answers:
Because the verse implies that a man does not have the power to direct his heart towards heaven, for it says, “YOU will direct their heart,” implying that if You direct their heart then Your ear will hear, as Rashi explained.  In other words, it is in the hand of God to direct their heart so they should have kavana in prayer, and if not for the help of God, one would not be able to direct his heart.  But at the same time, there is an ALLUSION that a man ought to arouse himself and consciously decide to have kavana, and then God will certainly help him, because (as Chazal said), “One who desires to purify himself merits Divine assistance.”

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