Read This First

Welcome to our Shabbos Table!

We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.

Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, click on "Click here to respond" or email us at
responses@ourtable.org.

Parshas Tzav

“And if some of the meat of the Shelamim sacrifice is eaten on the third day, it will not be accepted. The one offering [the sacrifice] should not think [to do so]. It will be pigul, and the soul that eats of it is liable for its sin” (Vayikra 7:18).

The Torah continues to outline the laws of the various korbanos (sacrifices), including details about a factor which renders a sacrifice pigul (invalid).

There were sacrifices which were burned entirely on the Mizbeach, while others were consumed, in whole or in part, by the Kohanim or the one who offered the sacrifice (“the owner”). A Shelamim sacrifice had to be consumed within two days, and like other sacrifices, could only be eaten within a certain area. If at the time the sacrifice was offered the owner had in mind to eat it after the prescribed two days, the sacrifice is pigul (invalid) to begin with. The owner’s inappropriate thoughts alone are enough to invalidate the sacrifice (Rashi).

Staying Focused

In our times, without the Beis HaMikdash, we can no longer offer sacrifices. What we do have is prayer, in particular Shemoneh Esrei, also known as the Amidah. The Shulchan Aruch rules that “prayer is in place of sacrifices.” Just as inappropriate thoughts invalidated a korban, thoughts unrelated to prayer invalidate a Shemoneh Esrei (Orach Chaim 98:4). When we daven, we need to pay attention to what we are saying, rather than allowing our minds to wander freely. The Vilna Gaon (ibid.) writes that the source of this halachah is our passuk in Parshas Tzav, concerning the Shelamim sacrifice which can be invalidated by its owner’s intentions.

Lack of focus during davening is not uncommon, and it is not new. The Gemara lists it as one of three sins people transgress on a daily basis (Baba Basra 164b).

The story is told of a rav who greeted a congregant with a “shalom aleichem” after davening. Surprised, the congregant asked, “Why the shalom aleichem? I’ve been here all along!”

The rav told him,“I’m just welcoming you back. During Shemoneh Esrei, your mind was clearly all over the world. After a long, hard trip like that, a shalom aleichem was definitely in order.”

Question for Discussion:

Rav Gershon Bess of Los Angeles has wisely said, “You are going to daven anyway, so you may as well do it with kavanah (focus and intent).”How can we improve the level of our kavanah during Shemoneh Esrei?

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Response:

Aharon (“Rony”) Shapira, a high-tech and health care entrepreneur in Jerusalem, suggested that the commonly used name “Shemoneh Esrei”(literally “eighteen,” a reference to the original eighteen blessings in the Amidah) can teach us about how to concentrate properly on this central tefillah. Why is this part of the davening named for the number of brachos it includes? Sefiras HaOmer,the mitzvah of counting the forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuos, is not called “Forty-nine.” Why call the prayer “Eighteen?”

He feels that this name, used by Chazal, carries a subtle message: it is a reminder that there are eighteen (now nineteen) separate brachos in the Amidah. Each one of them is important, and should be given the attention it deserves.

Rony writes that a few practical steps can help improve concentration during Shemoneh Esrei. One is pausing briefly before beginning each brachah, taking even just a quick two seconds to think about what it means. Some siddurim include the title for each brachah. Glancing first at this title is an excellent reminder of the brachah’s significance.

Another very powerful aid to concentration is closing your eyes, and “writing” each word in your mind. Even if you are not able to do this for the entire Shemoneh Esrei, it is worth trying at least for Avos, the first brachah, where kavanah is an essential requirement (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 101:1).