And so the 5th chapter of Brachot draws to a close.
The 5th chapter of Brachot is summarised by Koren as follows:
“Chapter five contains discussions of ideas, mostly aggadic in nature, relating to the essence of prayer and its general role. Nevertheless , the aggada sections do not deal solely with the abstract and the sublime; they have practical halakhic ramifications in determining the appropriate manner of prayer.
Two discussions constitute the bulk of the chapter. The first deals with an individual’s approach to prayer; the second relates to permitted and prohibited additions to the prayer formula.”
In the Introduction to chapter 6, Koren inform us:
“The origins of blessings of enjoyment, which are recited before partaking of any kind of pleasure, are ancient. Chapter six seeks to clarify the details of these blessings, but not to establish the essential obligation to recite them. Consequently, the fundamental issue throughout the chapter is the question of parameters and definitions. What do these blessings include? Which blessings are appropriate for which items?
From a practical perspective, blessings of enjoyment can be divided into two categories: Blessings recited over food and drink, and blessings recited over fragrances. Within each category, some blessings are more general, while others are more specific. Most of the discussions revolve around determining the parameters of each blessing.”
“KAVANAH” IN SHEMONEH ESREH
The Gemara says that a person must have Kavanah at least for the first blessing, the blessing of Avot, when reciting Shemoneh Esreh. This implies that if one does not have Kavanah during the rest of Shemoneh Esreh, he nevertheless fulfills his obligation b’Di’eved.
The RAMBAM (Hilchos Tefilah 10:1) records this as the Halachah. However, the Rambam elsewhere (Hilchos Tefilah 4:1) seems to rule that one must have Kavanah in all of the blessings of Shemoneh Esreh, and if one does not have Kavanah in even one blessing of Shemoneh Esreh, he does not fulfill his obligation! How can the two rulings of the Rambam be reconciled?
ANSWER: RAV CHAIM SOLOVEITCHIK explains that the Kavanah that the Rambam is discussing earlier (in Hilchos Tefilah 4:1) is a different type of Kavanah than that of our Gemara. The Rambam there is discussing the awareness that one is standing before Hashem while he prays Shemoneh Esreh, as the Rambam himself writes later (Hilchos Tefilah 4:16). The Gemara here, on the other hand, is referring to a simpler form of Kavanah, that of understanding the meaning of what one is saying.
Rav Chaim gives two reasons why the lack of Kavanah that one is standing before Hash-m at any point in Shemoneh Esreh invalidates one’s Shemoneh Esreh. First, if one does not have this Kavanah, his action of praying is considered to be no more than “Mis’asek” (his body does the action mindlessly), and he does not fulfill his obligation. Second, the rule of “Mitzvos Tzerichos Kavanah” requires that one have Kavanah that he is fulfilling a Mitzvah, in order to actually fulfill that Mitzvah. If one does not have Kavanah that he is standing before Hashem during Shemoneh Esreh, he is lacking this basic, required Kavanah.