Parshas Mishpatim
           February 21, 2009 - 27 Shevat 5769
                             A SPECIAL SECTION FOR THOSE
                      WHO PREPARE FOR SHABBOS


Voices From the Ezras Nashim

The section in bold below was written in the expectation of posting for Parshas Yisro. The reason it did not get posted is most likely my lack of good planning, however, the larger question presented requires exploration. Input from any reader who would like to comment or add a thought is welcomed.

This week was filled with tasks that needed doing regardless of my intention to do something else. There were hours waiting for car repairs, insurance applications to review, a Mom who is finding the change to assisted living difficult and multiple shopping trips for things I just could not seem to remember when I was at the store for the first time. I had planned the week to leave time for preparing the Purim deliveries for the Bikur Cholim. Perhaps next week will see the completion of this project.

The events of the week did give me time to ponder the issue of kavanah. Generally I hear others speak of kavanah as applying to prayer and I wondered if there was a wider application. The quotation below was among the first I discovered when I searched the Internet. The quote is from a piece written in 2004 for the Tufts Hillel website.

“In the Jewish tradition, intention, kavanah, is an essential part of meaningful action. The term kavanah comes from the Hebrew root meaning to direct, intend, focus. The rabbis were very clear that living a meaningful Jewish life involves combining both the actions we do and the intention we bring to those actions. For example, the rabbis stressed that prayer was not just about the act of reading or saying the words of a prayer. If you did not pray with kavanah, actively thinking about the words you were saying, you have not fulfilled your obligation to pray. So too, in the Mishna, there is a wonderful passage about the commandment to hear the shofar blown on Rosh Hashanah. The rabbis ask an interesting question: What if you were outside walking to shul and you heard the shofar being blown and then you realized it was a shofar and not, say, a fog horn? They pose the question: have you fulfilled your obligation to hear the shofar? The answer that they give is an emphatic "No!" In order to fulfill your obligation to hear the shofar, you have to actually intend to hear it before you hear it. That is, meaningful action is not just something that happens haphazardly. Meaningful action is the confluence of a thoughtful decision about what you want to do coupled with the action of doing it.”

After completing the above section my computer (a 1998 Dell) froze and the material disappeared. It was late and I elected to take that as a sign that the piece was not yet ready to be completed. My intent was to begin again and so a few moments ago I attempted to open a new document to begin writing for this week. The computer choked, sputtered and then closed the program. I tried again and after taking an exceedingly long time the Word program opened to Document 2. I went back to see what was document 1. The header reads “Document 1 (Recovered).”

Kavanah in davening is something that may be easier for women than for men. As women our prayers are almost always prompted by a desire for closeness to HaShem while men are bound to time. They pray as required not necessarily as inspired. At Shacharis their thoughts may wander to the workday ahead, to tasks waiting to be accomplished or to family matters. At Minchah/Maariv there is an exhaustion from the work day and perhaps a tendency to review and rethink the days events.

While daily prayer in my life seems to be done with kavanah during organized shul based prayer I often find my mind wandering. Sometimes to the tasks before me, but most often to a personal prayer. The prayers in the siddur are beautiful and inspiring and I find that when I cannot concentrate on them it is because I have begun a personal conversation with the Abishter. The question of course is do I get answers. I must admit that I do. Years ago we had the wonderful opportunity to have several women spend Shabbosim with us on a regular basis. All were unmarried and were looking for their bashert. I watched them daven and was impressed by their concentration and devotion. Yes, they were fervently praying to find the person with whom they would spend their lives, but there seemed to be more. When I spoke to them each woman told me that her prayer was for clarity. She davened for the ability to see the situations HaShem presented her with and to understand what it was she was supposed to do. These young and older women (today all married) changed the way I view prayer. Davening for clarity changes the expectations one has for prayer and the understanding of HaShem’s yes’s and no’s. It makes it possible to praise HaShem even when the answer is no or is unpleasant. There is no doubt for me that davening for clarity is kavanah filled prayer.

There is more to be said, but I would like to move on to the issue of kavanah in life. To me it is one thing to have kavanah l’kavod Shabbos even when the task is making beds or doing laundry. In planning my week I look forward to having the time to make the beds, shop, cook, set the table, etc. Preparing for chags, visiting the sick, assisting others and all manner of pre-planned activities are also easy for me to approach with kavanah and gratitude for the ability to serve.

What is a problem for me is the need to spend 5 hours in the car repair shop when I had promised my 96 year old mother that I would spend the day with her. Obviously HaShem meant for me to be in the repair shop, but all I could feel was frustration and anger. There are probably many people who would use the time to say tehillim. I am not particularly good at saying tehillim. This is a place that it is hard for me to approach the task with kavanah. I find the words hard to pronounce and the concepts wrapped in poetry hard to decipher. So, there I am when unwanted tasks present themselves seeing them as an interference with what would have been my kavanah filled plans yet knowing firmly and unequivocally that I am exactly where HaShem wanted me to be at that moment.

Is there a way to develop kavanah for the tasks of everyday living that seem to be interferences to the plans we have made? I plan to research and read and get back to you.

Elk’s Menu
For Parshas Mishpatim
February 21, 2009—27 Shevat 5769

Whole Wheat Challah
Baked in the merit of a child for a childless couple. To participate in this mitzvah please call Yehudis Halberstam—718-972-4793 for this week’s names.
Fresh Fruit Cup
Cauliflower Soup
Salmon en Croute with Sauteed Mushrooms and Onions
Vegetarian Meatloaf
Herb Roasted Potatoes
Spinach Souffle
Broccoli Salad with Cashews
Lettuce Salad with Fine Herbs and Homemade Dressing
Triple Ginger Pound Cake

Kiddush Menu

Egg Salad
Tuna Salad
Gefilte fish
Matjes Herring
Cucumber Salad

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