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Mazal tov to Shmuly Reece, who completed Shas Mishnayot for the fifth time this past Monday! The yeshiva celebrated his accomplishment by holding a siyum during lunch. Keep it up, Shmuly!

This was the final week of the winter zman at Yesodei HaTorah, and our regular shiurim were complemented by special classes preparing our talmidim for Pesach. In addition, many of the morning gemara shiurim temporarily stopped learning Masechet Shabbat, and instead focused on parts of Masechet Pesachim.

On Thursday night, Rav Wolicki gave the sicha ruchanit on the topic of, "Parashat HaChodesh: Israel, the Sun, and the Moon". Following the delicious mishmar chloent and snacks, Rav Wolicki offered a shiur on, "The Non-Halachic Disputes of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai", Rav Kahn gave a class on, "What is a 'Ben Olam HaBa'?", and Rav Arram discussed, "Rabban Gamliel's Seder Requirements: A Deeper View".

1 Nissan 5775

A Body Without a Soul
By Rabbi Scott Kahn

“Prayer without kavanah (proper intention) is like a body without a soul.”

This well-known and oft-cited truism defines prayer as genuine “worship of the heart” rather than as “worship of the mouth”.
Nevertheless, common experience demonstrates that authentic prayer with deep kavanah is a rare commodity indeed; as people race through their daily prayers, they likely lack even a modicum of proper intention. Is there any value in such an exercise?

The Vilna Gaon utilizes this week’s parashah to answer this question.
He notes that the daily prayer services are parallel to the daily sacrificial service; regarding the korbanot themselves, Chazal state, with reference to Parashat Vayikra:

“It is stated [in the Torah] regarding the animal ‘Olah’ offering, ‘A sweet-smelling fire offering’ (Vayikra 1:9), and regarding the fowl ‘Olah’ offering, ‘A sweet-smelling fire offering’ (Vayikra 1:17), and regarding the flour offering, ‘A sweet-smelling fire offering’
(Vayikra 2:2), in order to teach that whether one gives a lot or a little, the main thing is that he should direct his mind toward Heaven.” (Mishnah Menachot 13:11)

The Vilna Gaon explains that just as the times of prayer are parallel to the korbanot, the quality of the prayer is parallel to them, as well. The animal offering – the finest and most expensive sacrifice – is parallel to the prayer with proper and deep kavanah. The flour offering, in turn, represents the prayer which lacks kavanah altogether. Despite the fact that this offering is clearly of a lower quality than the animal offering, it is nevertheless “sweet-smelling”
if done for the sake of heaven. Indeed, states the Vilna Gaon, while prayer without kavanah is not at all ideal, the fact that the individual prayed at all demonstrates that, at least, he had in mind to fulfill the Divine command. Thus, even inferior prayer must be considered “for the sake of heaven.”

This explains why such prayer is called a body without a soul: for it is parallel to the flour offering, which – unlike the animal and fowl offerings – is vegetative, and, accordingly, “a body without a soul”.

This interpretation should not be understood as sanctioning prayer without kavanah; the simple understanding of “a body without a soul”
as being pejorative should certainly be maintained. Nevertheless, the Vilna Gaon’s understanding opens the way to a less judgmental and more inclusive understanding of our brothers and sisters who perhaps perform the mitzvoth in ways of which we do not approve. We should not tolerate in ourselves things that we think are mistaken, and we must not declare that inappropriate actions are acceptable. Nonetheless, we are commanded to judge our fellow Jews favorably; by looking for ways to see their actions as praiseworthy rather than blameworthy, we fulfill this Torah directive.

May we successfully improve the quality of our own prayer, so that we our tefillot will avoid being “a body without a soul”. Yet may we always look for the good in others, and recognize that even “a body without a soul” can nevertheless be an action for the sake of heaven.

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