Waiting before Prayer
כמה ישהה בין תפלה לתפלה? רב הונא ורב חסדא. חד אמר: כדי שתתחונן דעתו עליו. וחד אמר: כדי שתתחולל דעתו עליו.
[Minimally,] how long must one wait between [one] prayer to [another] prayer?
Rav Huna and Rav Chisda [both spoke on the subject, but we lost the record of who said which].
One said: long enough that one would be able to get into a pleading [tischonein] mindset.
One said: long enough that one would be able to clear [tischoleil] their mind.
מאן דאמר “כדי שתתחונן דעתו עליו.” דכתיב “ואתחנן אל ה'”. ומאן דאמר כדי שתתחולל דעתו עליו דכתיב (שמות לב:יא) “ויחל משה”.
The one who said, “to get into a pleading [tischonein] mindset”, as it is written, “And I pleaded [va’eschanan] to Hashem.” (Devarim 3:23)
The one who said, “to clear [tischoleil] their mind”, as it is written, “And Moshe appealed [vayichal].” (Shemos 32:11)
Although the second source text isn’t exact. “ויחל” has the root \חלה\, to begin. “תתחולל” is from \חלל\, emptiness.
This gemara struck me as paralleling something I was once told about there being two approaches to meditation.
One is to keep the mind focused on a single thought. Like Moshe, focused on trying to lead the Jews into Israel, praying “va’eschanan“.
The other approach to meditation is to clear the mind, tischoleil, to make oneself empty. Going back one step before va’eschanan, to the תחילה, the beginning.
How does one daven? Sometimes we bring our needs to the siddur, interpreting its praises and requests based on where we are in life. Other times we avoid all preconception, and listen to what the siddur is telling us to say.
So much for the epiphany I wanted to share, now “just” understanding the gemara itself.
1- Apparently in the text the Ritva had, Rav Huna is identified as stating the first opinion, and Rav Chisda, the second.
2- Rashi provides us with context. In a situation where one has to say the Shemoneh Esrei twice, for example, if one erred and needs to repeat Shemoneh Esrei, or for Shacharis and then for Mussaf, how rapidly in succession may the second one begin?
3- The Rashba and the Ritva point to the parallel gemara in the Yerushalmi (Vilna ed. 28a) that says one must pause the time it takes to walk 4 amos.
4- Rashi, the Ritva and the Shitah Mequbetzes all say there is no real dispute in the gemara, the difference is one of terminology. I took this to mean that pragmatically, pausing long enough to get one’s requests in order for the second tefillah and long enough to clear one’s mind are the same length of time. Especially since this is how long one has to wait, and actually succeeding in reaching the right mental state is secondary. And presumably, this length of time is the time it takes to walk 4 amos.
5- And in fact, the Shulchan Arukh (105:1) rules, “One should wait the time it takes to walk four amos, so that their mind will be settled enough to pray in a language of techinah.” (The Tur ad loc says “4 amos“, but doesn’t give more detail.) In the context of having to repeat a prayer after an error, the Rambam (Tefillah 10:1) quotes the first opinion, “tischonein“, verbatim.
It is interesting that neither refer to tischoleil. Make of the Rambam and Mechabeir siding with tischonein what you will.