Yevamot 100 - 106
Putting Prayer Into Focus
Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi arrived and said, “One who prays should direct his eyes downward (i.e. towards the Land of Israel, where the Divine Presence is present — Rashi), and should direct his heart to the heavens, in order to fulfill both of them (i.e. two seemingly contradictory Torah verses: one verse indicating that a person who prays should direct his eyes downward toward the Land of Israel, while the other verse seems to indicate that one’s eyes should be directed upwards towards the heavens.)”
We learn in our sugya an important halacha regarding how a person should be properly focused while praying to Hashem. The gemara tells of a dispute between Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Shimon son of Rebbi. One said that a person during prayer should have his eyes directed downwards, towards the Land of Israel, in our earthly world. He cited a verse as proof: “My eyes and My heart shall be there forever.” (Melachim I 9:3). The other Sage said that the eyes should be directed upwards towards heaven as a different verse states: “We shall lift our hearts with our hands to Hashem in heaven.” (Eichah 3:41)
When Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi arrived to the place where these Sages were learning, he asked what they were learning. When they told him of their different views about focus during prayer, citing the appropriate verses, he explained to them: “One who prays should direct his eyes downward, and should direct his heart to the heavens, in order to fulfill both verses.
The Maharsha poses a question on this halachic conclusion, based on a gemara in masechet Berachot that teaches: “When a person prays, he should direct his heart towards the Land of Israel (and not heavenward).” This clearly implies that a person in prayer should not only direct his eyes towards the Land of Israel, but he should direct his heart to there as well.
The manner in which the Aruch Hashulchan explains the halacha in practical terms provides an answer to the question of the Maharsha. The Aruch Hashulchan bases his ruling on the words of the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 95), as well as the writings of Rabbeinu Yonah and other Poskim. He explains that the concept of one’s heart being upwards in prayer means to “see” in one’s mind that he is standing in the Beit Hamikdash of Above, which is directly over the place of the earthly Beit Hamikdash (or its location, after its destruction). As Rabbeinu Yonah writes: “And while the person is in that state of focus — being in front of Hashem in the King’s Palace, in the Beit Hamikdash of Hashem in Heaven — the person should rid himself of any negative connection to pleasures and temptations of everyday life in the physical world.” In a sense, this can be seen as “step one of two,” and is the manner of prayer described in our sugya. The Aruch Hashulchan, concludes: “And after the person has achieved internalizing this thought of negating any negative physical desires, he should then also ‘look downwards’ (including lowering his head slightly) and envision himself as standing in the earthly Beit Hamikdash before Hashem. In this way his prayer is more powerful and more acceptable to Hashem.” Accordingly, this is the second step of preparation for prayer, one that is consistent with the teaching in masechet Berachot that one should stand in prayer with both his eyes and his heart facing the Land of Israel and the place of the earthly Beit Hamikdash.
May it be Hashem’s will to always answer our prayers and the prayers of the entire nation with mercy and favor.
- · Yevamot 105b