Tefillah Tips - Carving Out Your Own Space
As a guest enters into the sanctuary Shabbat morning he looks for a "gahbay" or someone that knows the ropes of the shul and asks respectfully, "where is a good place for me to sit?" This experienced Shabbat guest knows that shul goers can be very particular about their seats.
The question is what is the basis behind Jews caring so much about the actual spot they sit at in shul. Perhaps it is similar to box seats at the stadium or the opera-and since I paid good money for these seats you better head elsewhere. Or perhaps since I am comfortable and look forward all week to sit with my shul friends- I'd prefer to keep my usual spot. Or maybe there is even a halachik (Jewish law) basis for my desire to maintain my regular location.
The Talmud tractate Brachot 6B teaches, "Rabbi Chelbo says in the name of Rav Huna - Anyone that establishes a place to pray will be helped by the G-d of Abraham". The Talmud then advances the reason for this- since Abraham established a specific spot for his prayers (see Genesis 19) and was answered by G-d, so too others who establish a specific place for prayer will be answered as well.
The Rosh and the Tur both explain that this passage in the Talmud applies both to the synagogue as well as at home. One should attend the same synagogue regularly and sit in the same location as opposed to frequenting one today, one tomorrow and a third for Shabbat. Similarly if one cannot attend a minyan- (quorum of public prayer) and must pray at home it should be in the same dedicated place each time.
The Maharal of Prague explains the purpose of establishing a specific place for prayer. He writes that "selecting a dedicated place for prayer fortifies ones prayers because it demonstrates consistency and relationship. The more deeply something is rooted the more strength it contains". He claims that the difference between prayer from a fixed location and a temporal one is the difference between a tree planted firmly into the earth and a tree planted in a flowerpot.
Being strategic and consistent are the keys to success in every endeavor. Let's take advantage of this important strategy mentioned by the Talmud (fixing a set place to daven) and achieve the best tefilla possible.
However, if you happen to be late to shul and someone is occupying "your" seat, extend sensitivity, consideration, and a welcoming attitude by finding another place for yourself.