Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 28 October 2017 / 8 Heshvan 5778

Directing the Heart

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
Become a Supporter Library Library

“One who prays must direct his eyes downward and his heart upward.” (Yevamot 105b, Rambam in Laws of Prayer 5:4)

The heart represents the seat of one’s concentration. Therefore, an instruction to direct one’s heart upward implies that one should concentrate on his prayers, directing them to G-d. The instruction to direct one’s eyes downward towards the ground is in order for the worshiper not to be distracted. Since a person’s thoughts are affected by what he sees, if he would be looking straight ahead the different things happening around might cause him to become distracted from his prayers (See Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 97).

“For you are dust and to dust you will return.” (Ber. 3:19)

In yet a deeper sense, the mentioning of one’s eyes can be understood as a reference to the “mind’s eye”. One of the implications in directing the mind’s eye downward towards the ground can be seen as a directive to remind a person that his physical body originates from earth, where he will inevitably be forced to return one day. In contrast to this, the heart is directed upwards, to remind a person that his main concern should be for his soul, which comes from under G-d’s Heavenly throne of glory. This thought echoes the verse, “Thus the dust (i.e. the body) returns to the ground, as it was, and the spirit returns to G-d, Who gave it (Kohelet 12:7).”

With this idea in mind the worshiper will be reminded to pray for the eternal soul that is within him, and for that which is truly important, instead of just asking for material things, which are often in the end of little and no lasting benefit.

According to the above we can understand why prayer helps change a person’s perspective on life. Talking to G-d forces a person to think more truthfully. The idea of G-d’s eternality will cause a person to think more responsibly, realizing how far-reaching his actions are. Consequently, by talking to G-d and confiding in Him, a person will come to banish the foolish wants and desires from his heart. For, how can one face G-d with his trivial requests without being embarrassed, knowing that G-d is aware of his thoughts? Rather, one who is praying to G-d should make himself a proper vessel for G-d’s truth.

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