Fidget spinners have emerged on the market as the latest “fad.” They have managed to keep people spellbound when playing with them, and one can see many children as well as adults using these little toys. Although many have speculated that they were invented to help children with hyperactivity and A.D.D., it has now spread to the rest of the population and quickly gained popularity.
May One Use Spinners to Help Have MoreKavana?
One halachic question that has arisen in relation to these spinners is whether it would be permitted to use them while davening. If someone has a hard time concentrating during the Tefilla and sees that their mind frequently wanders, but can better concentrate when playing with their spinner, may they do so duringshemoneh esreh, when it is even easier to lose concentration, as it is recited quietly?The same question can be asked about doing so during birkas hamazon, since there too one may not interrupt to engage in other actions during the time that the beracha is recited.
R. Chaim and Standing Before Hashem
As we will see, there may be a difference regarding this issue between reciting berachos and birkas hamazon while using a spinner. The basis of the distinction may be a famous comment by Rav Chaim Soloveitchik (Chidushim, Hilchos Tefilla 4:1) about kavana in shemoneh esreh. Rav Chaim notes that the Rambam there declares that Tefilla recited without kavana, proper intention,is not considered Tefilla. Rav Chaim notes though that the Rambam elsewhere (Hilchos Tefilla10:1) appears to contradict himself when he says that a lack of kavana during Shemoneh Esreh does not invalidate one’s Tefilla, except with regard to the firstberacha, avos, which is considered more critical. He resolves the contradiction by explaining that the Rambam refers to two distinct, required elements ofkavana:
1. Reciting the nusach hatefilla, the words of Tefilla, with understanding of what they mean. We often do not think about or understand what all the words of Shemoneh Esreh actually mean. Sometimes we lose focus, and some words are hard to understand even when we do concentrate. In this case, the Rambam (in 10:1) rules that although lechatchila, ideally, one should maintain this kavana, if one did not, one has still fulfilled his obligation, with the exception of the first beracha.2
2. An existential kavana that during one’s Tefilla, one is standing before Hashem. This type of kavana, which may best be translated as awareness, is the one about which the Rambam (4:1) declares that it is absolutely necessary. If one has this general awareness, then even if one is lacking the particular kavana of the first type, he has still fulfilled his obligation of reciting the amida. However, one who lacks it has not fulfilled his obligation. One who is not even aware that he is standing before Hashem cannot be defined as having had the experience of Tefilla at all.
Perhaps this suggestion of Rav Chaim can be taken a step further: The Rambam (Tefilla 1:1) holds that there is a deoraisa, biblical, obligation to daven at least once a day. The Gemara (Taanis 2a) suggests that the pasuk recited during the second paragraph of Shema, “l’avdo bchol levavchem,” serving Him with all of your heart, refers to Tefilla, and the Rambam himself adds a reference to a different pasuk as well that is formulated in the form of a command as the source: “v’avadetem eis Hashem Elokeichem,” you shall serve Hashem your God. Either way, Tefilla is referred to as avoda, service, in the Torah.
The Ramban (Hasagos to Sefer HaMitzvos; cited in the Kesef Mishneh in the above halacha) argues though that Tefilla is only a derabanan, i.e., a rabbinic obligation. He derives this from the Gemara (Berachos 21a) that states that a baal keri, one who has a seminal emission, may not daven, but he should say Shema. The Gemara explains that although such a person is tamei, impure, and should not recite words of Torah, since the obligation to recite Shema isdeoraisa, Chazal did not uproot it. However, since Tefilla is derabanan, Chazal did have the power to uproot it in this case.
It is possible though that according to the explanation of Rav Chaim, the Rambam will interpret this Gemara in the following manner: The definition of Tefilladeoraisa according to the Rambam requires one to have an awareness of standing before Hashem.3 The recitation of any short words of shevach and bakasha(even if they are not based on the text of our Tefilla), which the Rambam also seems to require for Tefilla deoraisa (see Tefilla 1:3), would serve to help facilitate this state of mind.4 These words chosen by the individual though might not qualify as standard divrei torah or Tefilla. Therefore, they may not be included in the reference to Tefilla being derabanan in the Gemara, which is prohibited for a ba’al keri to recite. Chazal’s addition to Tefilla, in contrast, was the obligation to recite specific words, and to do so three times daily, and this is what is referred to as derabanan by the Gemara, and which is prohibited for a ba’al keri.5
Based on this idea, we can explain another conflicting set of halachos in the Rambam. The Rambam (Tefilla 1:5) states that Tefilla was designed to mirror and replace the korbanos offered in the Beis HaMikdash after it was destroyed. However, the Rambam elsewhere (Hilchos Melachim 9:1) states that Tefilla was originally instituted by the avos, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, who lived prior to the Beis HaMikdash. Indeed, the Gemara (Berachos 26b) appears to present these two approaches as arguing with each other. How, then, can the Rambam employ both of them?
The answers may be that the Rambam maintains that they refer to different elements of Shemoneh Esreh. The words of the Tefilla and the forms of shevach,bakasha, etc. were instituted in place of the korbanos. Just as a person once offered his possessions, i.e., his animals, to Hashem as a korban, so too he now offers his words to Him during Tefilla. This was instituted by Chazal to replace the korbanos. However, the state of standing before Hashem, which Rav Chaim claims is an absolute requirement, was instituted by the avos. This element of Tefilla is deoraisa and is independent of the korbanos.6
Applying Rav Chaim’s Explanation to Practical Halacha
This understanding of Rav Chaim may be taken a step further and applied to a number of practical halachic issues as well. The Emek Beracha, Rav Aryeh Leib Pomeranchik, who was a student of the Brisker Rav, notes that the Rambam (Berachos 2:12) rules that if one forgot the addition of retzeh to the birkas hamazon on Shabbos, and already began the fourth beracha, haTov v’hameitiv, he must start again from the beginning.
The logic here appears similar to the halacha of one who forgot yaaleh v’yavo, the addition recited on Rosh Chodesh and yomim tovim in the amida. In this case, if one already started the next beracha of modim, then he returns to the beginning of the beracha of retzeh and recites yaaleh v’yavo in the proper place. However, if he finished the shemoneh esreh, he must start from the beginning again. The difference between these two cases is that if one is still involved in the Tefilla, then one may return to the beracha where he forgot and continue from there, but if one has already completed the entire Tefilla, then his Tefilla period is finished, and he cannot simply return to the middle, but must start again.
So too, the Rambam uses the same logic in the case of forgetting retzeh on Shabbos. Since the beracha of hatov v’hametiv was instituted by Chazal at a later period of time, and the first three berachos, concluding with the beracha of Boneh B’yerushalayim, are deoraisa, then once one has begun the fourth beracha,he is considered as if he has completed the birkas hamazon, and must begin again from the start.
The Ra’avad, though, disagrees. He argues that the Gemara says that if one finished the final beracha of the amida, sim shalom, and during the bakashos, extra supplications at the end (i.e., what is nowadays known as elokai netzor), realizes he forgot yaaleh v’yavo, he can still return to retzeh to recite it, because this is considered lo akar raglav, not yet uprooting his feet, which is the way the Gemara classifies someone who is still in the middle of the amida. So the Ra’avad says that one who is reciting the beracha of hatov v’hametiv is no worse than one reciting the bakashos at the end of the amida (which are not actually part of the regular berachos), and therefore one can say it there.
The Emek Beracha explains the Rambam’s position based on the distinction developed above: The reason one may still return during the amida if he has not yet been oker raglav is because he is still standing before Hashem while reciting the additional bakashos. Therefore, it is still defined as being in the middle of the amida, despite the fact that the regular berachos have already been completed. However, this condition does not exist during birkas hamazon. Therefore, after the person has completed the main, deoraisa portion of birkas hamazon, they are no longer considered to still be in the middle of its recitation, and must return to the beginning if they realize during the fourth beracha that they have forgotten retzeh or ya’aleh v’yavo.
The Emek Beracha suggests another nafka mina, practical difference of Rav Chaim’s suggestion as well. The Chayei Adam (25:9) rules that if a halachic question arises in the middle of one’s recitation of the amida, for example. he doesn’t know the halacha if he is uncertain whether he recited one of the additions such as mashiv haruch or v’sein tal u’mutar l’beracha, he is allowed to walk to the bookshelf and find the answer in a sefer. The Nishmas Adamexplains that this halacha is taken from birkas hamazon, where one may interrupt the beracha in the middle for a need relating to reciting the beracha properly. However, the Emek Beracha disagrees with the parallel between Tefilla and birkas hamazon. Birkas hamazon consists of thanks to Hashem, and therefore it is permitted to pause in the middle to ensure one does it correctly. However, shemoneh esreh is when one is standing before Hashem. Therefore, one who goes to check something in the middle has broken his state of standing before Hashem, even if words were not spoken. Therefore, he feels that this should not be done, against the opinion of the Chayei Adam.7
Returning to our original question about using spinners to help maintain concentration, one could distinguish based on this approach of the Emek Berachabetween doing so while reciting a regular beracha and while reciting shemoneh esreh. While reciting a beracha, one can certainly argue based on the Chayei Adam that if one believes that his mind will truly be more focused when fingering the spinner, it is possible that it could be permitted, as it facilitates having better kavana. However, regarding shemoneh esreh where one must perceive himself as standing before Hashem, it does not seem that using a spinner or engaging in any other activity would be consistent with this state of mind, even if it helps enhance one’s kavana.8Therefore, using a spinner at this time would be forbidden.9
We should merit the achievement of concentration on all aspects of our Tefilla and berachos such that no other aids are necessary for this purpose.
1 Based on a shiur given by Rav Yosef Greenwald.
2 Although based on the Rambam one would think that if one lacked kavana during the first beracha, one should recite the amida again, the accepted psaktoday is that one would not do so, since there is no guarantee that the required kavana would be achieved when reciting it a second time either. See Rema (O.C. 101:1).
3 See also Nefesh HaChaim, sha’ar 3, which develops a similar idea at length.
4 This may also be why the mitzva of Tefilla is described as l’avdo and v’avadetem by the Torah, and not by the word mispalel. Someone who is a true eved Hashem, servant of Hashem, has an awareness that he is in front of Him, even without reciting any specific words.
5 It is also possible that the Rambam may simply reject this whole passage in the Gemara as not being accepted within the practical halacha. The Gemara here is operating within the opinion of the tanna kamma in the Mishna (20b) that a ba’al keri may not recite any words of Torah or Tefilla, while the Rambam seems to follow the opinion of R. Yehuda in the Mishna as well as others tanna’im in the Gemara (22a) that words of Torah are never made impure (Divrei torah einam mekablin tuma), as evident from the Rambam’s rulings in Hilchos Kerias Shema (4:8) and Hilchos Tefilla (4:4). However, in order to accept this explanation, there are a number of other factors that must be considered, which are beyond the purview of this shiur.
6 For additional sources regarding this question, see the Sefer Mafteach to the Rambam (Tefilla 5:1) who refers to the Ohr Sameach and many others who address this question.
7 It should be noted that the Mishna Berura (104:2) does accept this ruling of the Chayei Adam, and even says he agrees (though not without significant hesitation) in theory that one could speak to ask the shaila to another person as well. This additional extension though is not accepted by many other poskim,even those that do accept the first case. See Piskei Teshuvos to Siman 104.
8 The same may be true for Shema as well. Since such activities are not consistent with kabalas ol malchus shamayim, accepting upon oneself the yoke of heaven, which involves negating own’s existence (see Nefesh Hachayim 3:1), perhaps one should not do so here either.
9 For further discussion of the issue of handling objects during shemoneh esreh in order to enhance one’s kavana, see the sources cited in the Piskei Teshuvos(96:#2).
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