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I Cannot Focus on the Words of My Prayers

I Cannot Focus on the Words of My Prayers

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Hi,

As hard as I try, I am having trouble concentrating on the words in the prayerbook.

What should I do?

Answer:

Concentrating during prayers is a great struggle for many. Standard Jewish prayer requires repeating the same words day after day, which can make it difficult to concentrate on the words.

Chabad-Lubavitch philosophy places great emphasis on the prayers and the transformative effect they can have on a person. Learning Hassidic teachings before praying is encouraged, as these teachings discuss the greatness of G‑d and His creation. This kind of contemplation helps one clear one’s mind and focus on the words being said and before whom they are being said. Preparing for prayer in this way is referred to in the Code of Jewish Law (98:1): “Before prayer, one should contemplate the greatness of G‑d Almighty and the lowliness of man.”

Just as preparing for anything one does will enhance one’s performance or experience, so too, contemplation of G‑d’s greatness before prayers greatly enhances one’s ability to focus.

Chabad.org recently added an entire section that explains the deeper meaning of the prayer service. This section reveals new layers of meaning in the familiar text. Studying the deeper meanings behind the words can help one focus on the prayers. See the Online Siddur with Commentary.

In addition, here are several ideas you can try; and I’m sure, if you ask around, you’ll get other ideas too.

One very simple (yet surprisingly difficult to carry out) strategy is to keep your finger pointing to the place in your prayerbook. That way, you have to constantly look at the words while you move your finger in time to what you’re saying. It doesn’t leave room for your thoughts to wander.

If you are reading the prayers in Hebrew, you might try lightly writing in the English translation between the Hebrew lines in the prayerbook. Sometimes, actually looking at the English words makes it much easier to keep in mind the meaning of the words you are reading. (Note that one should not do this on the Sabbath and major Jewish holidays, since we do not write on these days.)

My favorite option is to make use of the punctuation. That means you read the words as you would if you were actually saying them in conversation, rather than rereading the same text each day. When you speak, you pause where there are commas and periods, or at natural breaks in the sentences. Your voice is expressive. When you ask a question, your tone conveys that you are asking, rather than making a statement. The different parts of speech are heard in your voice.

By contrast, when we pray, we tend to rattle off the words in a monotone, pausing for breath only when we need it. But we would never speak to others that way. Shouldn’t our prayers to G‑d have the sound of a meaningful conversation?

Please see How do I develop my prayer concentration abilities? from our Jewish Prayer section.

Malkie Janowski
for The Judaism Website—Chabad.org

Malkie Janowski is an accomplished educator who lives in Coral Springs, Florida. Mrs. Janowski is also a responder on Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi team.
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Discussion (8)
November 30, 2012
Suggestions on the concentration of prayer
Punctuation - brilliant and beautiful! Prayer is communication; we are not speaking to a lifeless rock, we are petitioning life itself. Wonderful suggestion Mrs. Janowski.
Bill Akin
San Jose
November 30, 2012
G_d who made heaven and earth is omnipresent, which means he is everywhere. Let us not worry about losing concentration. Instead talk to the Lord, as the psalmist quotes in Psalm 55 v16-17: As for me, I will call upon God and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.
A Bautista
Gibraltar
November 29, 2012
Prayer
This is a good subject.

Prayer is offered to G-d Almighty whom we believe is above all things. Prayer should be more meaningful when said or recited by true faith.
Lasarusa Yrhuda Sovea Ben-Zion
Suva, Fiji Islands
November 26, 2012
Know your self and your thoughts
I realized that because I was so stressed out and worried about what I had to do or not do, no contempt in life, being in a rush-not being able to relax....it all hinders my ability to focus and contain the reality of time. Getting to know me, my thoughts, worries, etc helped me be able to focus because all the other things I was thinking about were out of the way. Take time to know you :]
Tara Parra
Chandler
September 14, 2011
Focus on prayer
Your suggestions do work, The only difficulty remaining is that by the time I finish my prayers, the rest of the congregation has gone One is left alone or derided for taking 'too long'. for making prayer meaningful..
Except one time, the acting Rabbi, responded to the congegations' question as to whether he was asleep by saying he, motioning to me, "he is part of us, we can wait". I truly felt that I was a meaningful part of the congregation.
Mr. Mittleman has since passed away, but he is very alive in my thoughts and life.
alex rosenfeld
rishon letzyion, isr
September 13, 2011
overdrafted
My message for you is about overdraft.
John von neumann was overdrafted, a lot of jews are overdrafed. Most Americans are overdrafted. It is hard to know if each of our human beings has a limited psychic energy bank or mental energy pool. It is not hard to tell the symptoms of overdraft: loss of focus, feeble, falter, susceptible, insomnia. In short, fall short of self control.

Overdraft of mental energy weakens the decision power and quality of life.
David
September 13, 2011
Different ways of being in prayer
It seems the intent carries the meaning, and yes, to vary one's voice, to make it "your" prayer and not rote, should make an enormous difference.

Saying anything with meaning that is personal is truly communicating, and otherwise it's rote and not meaningful and merely what someone else "wrote". Sometimes of course, the reading aloud, by virtue of its group nature, brings a new kind of spirit into the printed page, bringing it to life.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
September 11, 2011
Ditto at times
Thank you for the suggestions. As a person of not a few words the strategy of this idea of conversing is a beautiful one.
Thank you for making prayer doable.
Chloe Shapero (Chaya Mushka)
Coral Springs, Fl
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