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