Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Beha’alotecha

In his D’var Torah this week, the Chief Rabbi asks us the question: Is it better to pray quickly or slowly?

How long should a prayer take?

The Gemarah in Mesechet Brachot (34a) tells us of a story of a Tefillah, a prayer service, which was taking place in the Beit Midrash, the hall of study, of Rabbi Eliezer. The Chazan leading the service was very very quick and the students came over to Rabbi Eliezer and they said ‘tell him to go slower!’

Rabbi Eliezer said to them, ‘have you not read what is written in this week’s Parasha of Beha’alotecha, when Moses prayed to God on behalf of his sister Miriam? Keil Na Refah Na La, ‘God please – heal her please’ and that was it. It was a very quick prayer. Therefore, Rabbi Eliezer said ‘it’s fine… let him be quick’.

‘The Belzer Rov would say that when a wagon is driven over a muddy surface, the slower it goes, the more mud it will pick up’

On another day, a different Chazan, in the same Beit Midrash, was taking his time, schlepping it out. The students came to Rabbi Eliezer and they said ‘tell him to get a move on’.

Rabbi Eliezer said to them ‘do you not remember what it says about Moses… when he was on Mount Sinai, he continued to pray for 40 days and for 40 nights. What a long prayer it was – let him schlep it out’.

I think this is a very powerful Gemarah because the point that Rabbi Eliezer is making is that it was the same Moses that on one occasion davened a quick prayer and on another occasion, he took his time.

And the key message here is about Kavanah – it’s the intention, it’s what we feel, it’s our sincerity during our davening – that is what counts.

The Belzer Chassidim are well known for davening quickly. The Belzer Rov would say that when a wagon is driven over a muddy surface, the slower it goes, the more mud it will pick up. And so too, the longer our prayers, the more possibility there is for a distraction.

‘We need to have Kavanah. That is the essence of our prayers’

On the other hand, of course, we need to daven properly, we need to say every word and we need to have that full intention.

And so we need a measured approach.

So, really the essence of Rabbi Eliezer’s message to us, is whether you are davening slowly or whether you are davening quickly, the most important thing is your Kavanah which comes from the root Kivun, which means ‘direction’, to take our prayers in the direction of the Almighty, fired with the spirit of Emunah, of ‘faith’.

We need to have Kavanah. That is the essence of our prayers.

Shabbat Shalom