One reciting the Amida must have kavana, that is, she must pay attention to what she is saying and must try not to let her mind be distracted by anything else during the prayer. If other thoughts enter her mind, she must expel them and return to her prayer. Even if she does not succeed in concentrating on all of the words, she must at least try to have kavana for the conclusion of each berakha. If she cannot concentrate during all of the berakhot, she must make an effort to concentrate on Avot and Modim, for those are the berakhot in which we bow down at their beginning and at their end. At the very least, she must have kavana in Birkat Avot, the first berakha of the Amida (SA 101:1 and MB 1-3).
If one recited the Amida but did not have kavana during Birkat Avot, technically she must repeat the Amida, because kavana during that berakha is requisite for fulfilling her obligation. However, due to the decline of generations and other preoccupations, our ability to concentrate has weakened. Therefore, the Aĥaronim rule that we do not repeat the Amida, since there is concern that even in reciting the Amida a second time, she will forget to have kavana during Birkat Avot, and her repetition will be for naught (Rema 101:1; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 4). Hence, one who knows that she will not be able to have kavana even for Birkat Avot should preferably not even begin the Amida. She should instead fulfill her obligation by reciting Birkhot Ha-shaĥar. 1
If one is about to finish Avot and notices that she did not have kavana in its recitation, as long as she has not yet said God’s name at the conclusion of the berakha, she goes back to “Elokei Avraham” and continues from there with kavana (MB 101:4, in the name of Ĥayei Adam). If she has already said God’s name, she concludes the berakha with kavana. It is preferable that she go back and think the words of Birkat Avot in her heart, for, in Rambam’s opinion, thought is considered speech (hirhur ke-dibur). However, if she already began the second beraka with the words “Ata gibor,” she continues to pray and must try to have kavana while reciting the remaining berakhot, especially Birkat Modim, for some poskim maintain that having kavana in Modim rectifies the lack of kavana in Avot.
- Even men who are sure that they will not be able to have kavana in Avot may not begin to pray, as explained in Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 17 n. 5. All the more so women, who be-di’avad are allowed to fulfill their obligation by reciting Birkhot Ha-shaĥar, as explained above, 2:4-5. See also Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 17 n. 6. The Aĥaronim explain that be-di’avad, even if one did not have kavana at all while reciting the Amida, since he did intend to fulfill the mitzva of prayer, he fulfills his obligation. So states Shibolei Ha-leket §17 in the name of the Rishonim. Similarly, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 101:4 states in the name of Ĥesed La-Avraham that the berakhot of one who prays without kavana are not berakhot le-vatala. This means that what he recited is considered prayer; however, because he lacked kavana, the Sages maintain that it is necessary for him to repeat the Amida. The proof for this is that one who realizes in the middle of the Amida that he did not have kavana for the first berakha does not immediately go back, which means that there is value to what he prayed without kavana. This is not true of one who realizes that he mistakenly mentioned rain in the summer, for in that case he is required to go back immediately.
A woman who almost always has kavana but this time did not, and who is certain that when she repeats her prayer she will have kavana from the beginning of the Amida until the end, may repeat her prayer with the utmost kavana. It is best that she makes a stipulation that if the prevailing custom exempts her from repeating her prayer, it should be considered a voluntary prayer (tefilat nedava). ↩