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Choosing a Place of Prayer

Abraham used to establish a fixed place for prayer. A fixed place of prayer creates a firm bond between the worshiper and his prayer. It transforms the supplicant's worship into a firm foundation and unchanging element in the structure of his life.
Dedicated to the memory of
Hana Bat Haim
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1. Getting Out of the Entrance
2. A "Fixed" Place - Recipe for Humility and Piety
3. Avoiding Intervention

Getting Out of the Entrance
Regarding fixing a place for prayer in the synagogue, the Shulchan Arukh says that the worshiper should avoid selecting a place near the entrance. Rather, one should try to find a place inside the synagogue at least four cubits (one meter), and sit and pray there.
The Shulchan Arukh brings a number of reasons for this law. To begin with, one's prayer should not appear a burdensome ordeal which one would like nothing more than to get away from at the first possible moment. Second, the worshiper should not become caught up with what is going on outside during prayers. And third, the worshiper should not begin praying immediately upon entering the synagogue, but rather should wait a little while until he becomes calm and focused.

A "Fixed" Place - Recipe for Humility and Piety
In addition, it is fitting that a person establish an unchanging place to stand in the synagogue for all of his prayers. This law implies two things: one, a person should chose one particular synagogue for both evening and morning prayer services, and, if possible, for both weekday and Sabbath services; two, even in one's choice synagogue, a person should decide upon a specific place to stand for all of the prayer services.
A fixed place of prayer creates a firm bond between the worshiper and his prayer, and transforms the supplicant's worship into a firm foundation and unchanging element in the structure of his life. In this way, his life ascends while a fixed element remains connected to the sanctity of the congregation of Israel in worship.

The Talmud goes to great lengths to emphasize the value of establishing a fixed place for prayer: "Whoever established a fixed place for prayed has the God of Abraham as his guide, and when he dies, they say to him, 'Alas the humble man! Alas, the pious man! One of the students of Abraham our father [has departed]!'"

Rashi comments on the above that we know of Abraham our father that he used to establish a fixed place for prayer. It may very well be that this specific practice was particular to his character and that this is what brought the Rambam to refer to Abraham as the "pillar of the world." Abraham was extremely firm in his faith. He was not deterred or set back by the pressure placed upon him by people or events. This characteristic demonstrates the great force of his faith. In a book entitled "HaMaspik," written by the son of the Rambam, the author discusses the high spiritual level of the fathers. They were of such exemplary fiber that even if they knew that in return for all of their good deeds, not only would they not be rewarded, but they would receive painful punishment in the hereafter, they would not budge from their position. In this lies the secret of their greatness - the firmness of their faith was unshakable.

An outward expression of such firmness is the act of establishing an unchanging place for prayer. Keeping a fixed place causes a person to become humble and pious. Why? Answer: The worshipper's place is liable to be taken for any of a number of reasons, and one can not possibly maintain a constant presence in the synagogue in order to guard it. This will no doubt cause the worshiper to arrive early for prayer before other worshippers arrive. In addition, sometimes there are people around the worshiper who disturb him, causing him to desire changing his place of prayer. Yet, only if the worshipper possesses the traits of humility, patience, and self-restraint will he manage to keep his fixed place. Regarding the merit granted one who holds his ground under even such circumstances, the sages say, "His enemies fall at his feet."

Avoiding Intervention
Yet, when choosing a fixed place to stand in worship, should one give preference to one area of the synagogue over another? Regarding this question, the Shulchan Arukh states: "One should make sure that nothing separates between the worshipper and the wall [in front of him]. Yet, something which is permanently fixed, like the ark, or the pulpit, is not considered a separation." It is best, then, to fix one's place of pray before a wall or a pillar, so that there be nothing between the worshipper and the wall. The Mishna Berurah writes that such is the choicest practice, but there is no prohibition if, occasionally, there is a case in which a quorum of ten Jews prays together in one room and there is not enough space for all of them to pray directly in front of the wall. The Mishna Berurah continues, explaining that this is no reason not to pray together with them, but if there are objects in front of the worshipper, he should close his eyes while praying, or concentrate entirely on reading from his prayer book, without looking up.

The law that one should find an appropriate place to stand inside the synagogue has as its foundation the appropriate intention of the heart - that there should be no boundary separating the worshipper from the Almighty. If we are careful about an intervening object, certainly, when it comes to worshipping the Almighty, we must be extra careful that there be no foreign thoughts in our prayers - thoughts which are liable to "intervene" between us and Him. The Turei Zahav, points out that if the intervening object is intended to assist one in prayer, for example, a reader's stand, than it is not considered an intervening object. In light of this, we may rise to the defense of those who exert themselves in their attempts to worship God, yet, occasionally, as a result of ignorance, employ incorrect methods. If these methods help them to truly come closer to God, their mistaken approach will not be a stumbling block for them.


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