Tachanun 3

About eight years ago, a ben Torah, whom I admire greatly, mentioned to me that he never says Tachanun. When I asked him why, he candidly responded that it is a very sanctified and “scary” tefilah, and since he has no kavanah, he is afraid of being punished severely. In fact, the Magen Avraham (siman 131 s”k 5) quotes the Zohar HaKadosh who writes that the punishment is very severe for one who does not have kavanah when reciting Tachanun. My guess is that he had learned this Zohar and therefore refrained from ever saying Tachanun. (Note: I am not qualified to pasken halachic questions, though I believe this action was not correct. Anyone who would ever consider this idea must ask his rav.)

I was very bothered by seeing such a wonderful ben Torah say that he has no kavanah while davening, so I went to my rebbi, HaRav Mordechai Finkelman shlitaMashgiach Ruchani of Yeshivas Ohr HaChaim, to discuss how I could improve my own tefilah and help others. His sage advice and guidance was one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given (along with other life-changing guidance Rav Finkelman has given to me over the years). It has had a dramatic impact on my life, each and every day over the last eight years, and I am still benefiting daily in a most profound way.

His advice, which he had received himself from HaRav Avraham Pam zt”l, was to work on one very short segment of tefilah each week and focus heavily on that segment that week. After that week, it will remain for a lifetime. This effort requires an investment of only a short amount of time to learn that segment well. The review is automatic and requires zero additional time, since the review is to focus heavily on that segment as we daven each day that week. This life-changing advice mushroomed into what you are now reading: The Weekly Tefilah Focus.

Tachanun, in fact, is a very exalted and powerful tefilah. There is a story in the Gemara of the Tana Rabbi Eliezer [HaGadol], who was put into excommunication by his brother-in-law Rabban Gamliel (also a Tana and a leader – a nasi). Rabbi Eliezer’s wife, who was Rabban Gamliel’s sister, was afraid that her husband’s pain at the time he said Tachanun would kill her brother. Every day, she would interrupt her husband’s tefilah between the end of Shemoneh Esrei and Tachanun. One day, she miscalculated and thought it was Rosh Chodesh, but it was not. He said Tachanun after Shemoneh Esrei without interruption, and Rabban Gamliel died. We must note that his sister had not been concerned that her husband’s pain during Shemoneh Esrei would kill her brother. It was only his Tachanun that she feared.

Rabbeinu Bachya writes that there are three kavanos of Tachanun. We will explore all three in more depth next week, b’ezras Hashem. In the second one, he writes that generally one who is pained and/or exhibits humility, both primary components in the t’shuvah process, falls on his face (Tachanun is called “N’filas Apayim”). As a result, his tefilah will be accepted and HaKadosh Baruch Hu will be concerned about his pain and fulfill his request. The Radak and the Shelah HaKadosh write that one who is ill and recites Tachanun (the Shelah said this about Perek 6 of T’hilim, where most of Tachanun comes from) with a broken and pained heart, his tefilos will surely be accepted.

What makes Tachanun such an elevated and powerful tefilah? Look for the next segment to learn more.