01. Mental Preparation
The Sages teach (Berakhot 31a; SA 93:2), “One should not stand to pray while in a state of sadness or ennui.” Prayer elevates people. Therefore, one must approach prayer out of happiness, knowing that she is about to be uplifted and brought closer to God.
The Sages further teach (ibid.), “One should not pray out of laughter,” because laughter negates one’s reverence for God, and one must pray out of a sense of awe and submission. “Nor amidst conversation,” because conversation distracts one from her inner world, and prayer is supposed to emerge from the depths of one’s soul. “Nor from frivolity and idle chatter,” because prayer is based on the recognition of one’s ability to do great things with her speech, and if she approaches prayer with idle words, she demonstrates that she does not value her speech (see Olat Re’iyah vol. 1, p. 29).
In the prayer service for men, the Sages instituted the recitation of joyful and heartwarming words prior to reciting the Amida in order to settle the mind; before Shaĥarit and Ma’ariv, we recite the berakha of “Ga’al Yisrael” (“Who redeemed Israel”), and before the Minĥa Amida we say Ashrei (SA 93:2). Although women are not obligated to recite these prayers, it is at least incumbent upon every woman to pause for a few seconds, about the amount of time it takes to walk the distance of four amot, before praying, in order to settle her mind.
The pious people of yore (“ĥasidim rishonim”) would greatly augment their preparations for prayer, spending a full hour directing their hearts toward their Father in heaven before praying (Berakhot 30b; SA 93:1; MB 1).
If a woman plans on giving tzedaka, whether by putting money in the tzedaka box in her house or by writing a check for a donation, it is best that she does so before praying, so that she enters her prayer with the joy of having performed a mitzva (SA 92:10). 1 Furthermore, when one beseeches God for kindness and compassion, it is appropriate that she first give something of hers to the needy. Arizal recommends reflecting, before prayer, on the mitzva to love your fellow as yourself, which is a great Torah principle, as all the prayers are formulated in the plural as we pray for the nation as a whole.
- The Aĥaronim write, based on Rambam (Ahavat Ĥesed 1:1:14) that it is better for one who wants to give a large sum of money to tzedaka to donate money on several occasions instead of giving all of it away at once. However, this statement was made in a case where the small donation would benefit the starving poor, allowing them to buy their next meal with the money received. Nowadays, the needs of the poor have changed, there are almost no people starving for food, and the existing organizations and soup kitchens for the poor people need of large sums of money, it seems that there is no virtue in dividing the money into smaller amounts, for doing so only burdens fundraisers and undermines the primary objective, which is to help the poor. Therefore, instead of 1,000 people giving small sums of money to 1,000 charity organizations, it is preferable that each person gives their whole tzedaka donation to a limited number of places. They thereby save the trouble and the tremendous cost entailed in the collection of the funds, despite the fact that this may prevent them from being able to give tzedaka every day before prayer. Nonetheless, people often have small change, and it is appropriate to give this as tzedaka before prayer. ↩