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    Too hard to concentrate – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. I get distracted during the High Holyday services. What can I do about it?

    rosh hashanah survival kit bookA. The prayers require kavvanah – intention or concentration.

    Rabbi Chayyim HaLevi Soloveitchik of Brisk says out in his commentary on Maimonides’ Laws of Prayer, chapter 4, that there are two types of kavvanah.

    One is the knowledge that we are standing before God and that nothing else exists or matters. The second is an understanding of the words so that not only do we speak the words but the words speak to us.

    It would help you to cultivate both kinds of kavvanah. Turn off and turn away from everything and everybody else, even the service itself, and retreat into a spiritual cocoon where your heart and mind focus on God.

    Then turn to the prayer book and focus your mind and thoughts on a prayer that appeals to you. Even if it means lagging behind the rest of the congregation and omitting a Psalm or piyyut (liturgical poem) or two (or more), have a dialogue with the words.

    Whatever you do, do not let your shule neighbour break the spell and distract you with conversation.

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