October 13, 2020

Eruvin 65

Today’s daf (Eruvin 65a) contains a teaching which – if taken at face value – would likely provide a justification for almost all of us to almost never pray:
‘Rav Chiya Bar Ashi said in the name of Rav: Whoever lacks a settled mind should not pray, as we have been told, “when a person is agitated (literally, ‘when they feel they are in a narrow place’), they should not render judgement [neither upon others as a judge in a courtroom, nor upon themselves while engaged in prayer]”’.
As Rabbi Yitzchak ben Sheshet (Responsa 259) explains, prayer is a form of widening the heart, but in order to do so, a person needs to remove themselves – at least somewhat – from the limiting beliefs of whatever may be agitating them, in order for their prayer to achieve its goal.
The problem, as we know, is that many of us – especially in these challenging times – do experience frustration and agitation, and this can lead us to feel that we are in a narrow place that restricts us from widening our heart. Given this, what should we do about prayer?
According to Rabbi Yosef Chaim (Ben Yehoyada on Eruvin 65a), ‘a person should not pray while agitated. Instead, they should wait until their mind becomes more settled and they should then pray’. What this means that just as we plan to pray, we should also have a plan of things we can do prior to prayer to help us remove the limiting beliefs of whatever may be agitating us so that we can pray.
However, he then explains that, ‘if someone has a duty to pray that is timebound, even Rav (i.e. the author of this teaching) would agree that they should pray within the necessary time rather than cease to fulfil their obligatory prayer’ (although, as Meiri observes, this need not be a full prayer; instead, ‘they should pray a short prayer rather than not pray at all’).
As mentioned, if taken at face value Rav’s teaching could be used as a justification for almost all of us to almost never pray. Yet what we learn from Rabbi Yitzchak ben Sheshet and from Rabbi Yosef Chaim is that if we are not in the right ‘place’ for prayer, our task is to move ourselves – as best we can – from out that ‘place’, and then pray whatever we can from whatever place we were able to reach.
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