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11/04/2021 10:38:41 AM


Rabbi Ari Lucas

Looking for Kavannah by Turning Inward

Kavannah is a hard word to translate. It means intention or focus. It is both a necessary ingredient for and an end goal of Jewish prayer. I’ll admit, it’s been hard for me to come by these days. I was catching up with a colleague last week and we were both reflecting on how the latent stress in the environment, plus the electronic intrusions into our daily lives and prayer spaces, plus feeling pulled in a thousand different directions has made proper focus and intention in our work and spiritual lives a rare commodity during the pandemic. She suggested that I try pulling my tallit over my head while praying. Perhaps you’ve seen this posture before. It’s a custom that some people follow where the tallit (prayer shawl) becomes like a shield - blocking out all distraction. Some people do it only for the central parts of the service (for example, the Sh’ma, the Amidah, or the Kedushah), others do it the entire service. I’d experimented with this in the past, but hadn’t done it in a while. This past Shabbat, I thought I’d try it again. It helped - if only for a brief moment.

In this world of constant stimulation and distraction, moments of focus and presence are even more precious. We must be intentional about creating conditions for intention. We have to be protective of those times and spaces which nourish our souls. Often when the world around us feels chaotic, it’s helpful to turn inward to find some peace and quiet. Maybe you would like to try experimenting with a tallit at home or in synagogue - see what it feels like to wrap yourself in the Jewish security blanket and focus on your spiritual purpose. Or maybe there are other meditative or spiritual practices that you find helpful. Prayer is such an essential part of my spiritual life, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy or meaningful. It takes discipline and commitment (and some help from friends along the way).

July 14,2024 /  8 Tammuz 5784