Is it possible to visit the Great Wall of China, the Statue of Liberty, and the Burj Khalifa all in one day? Of course not, right? Wrong! It is possible. All you have to do is take 3 steps back and 3 steps forward and start the silent Shemoneh Esrei, and it is the quickest way to travel the world in minutes!
This is a sad joke. Is it partially exaggerated? Yes, but only partially. Sometimes we space out so much in middle of Shemoneh Esrei that it feel like we have traveled the world.
The holy Reb Noam Elimelech of Lizhensk says a remarkable thing: Some people find themselves thinking about משבשות זרות – random thoughts – more so during the Shemoneh Esrei than any other time! In fact, he explains homiletically, that this is what the Torah means when it says: כי תצא למלחמה על איבך – when you will go out to battle against your enemy.
כי תצא – when you daven Shemoneh Esrei, and then you “go out” and entertain all of those random thoughts amidst the prayer, you have allowed yourself to enter למלחמה – the battle against the Yetzer Harah. על אויבך – the enemy in this case is those random thoughts.
Is it a loftier level if a person is able to concentrate on Hashem the entire time during Shemoneh Esrei? Absolutely. But, practically speaking, you will probably have those moments during davening when your mind just wanders and you are thinking about chicken soup or cactuses instead. When that happens, realize that it is the Yetzer Harah working hard – very hard – to distract you from Hashem.
If anything, when we have these daydreams amidst our Shemoneh Esrei, instead of getting frustrated at ourselves, “How could I have entertained these thoughts while I’m talking to Hashem, He probably doesn’t want to listen to me anymore,” let us realize, “Wait a second, if the Yetzer Harah is trying this hard to make me think about random things instead of focusing on the words I am saying, there must be something really special and holy here.”
In life, whether it be a bank, a president, or a Shemoneh Esrei, that which is special and valuable tends to be more guarded and protected. A bank which houses tens of thousands of dollars, is protected by huge vaults, security cameras, and a guardsman. A president is surrounded by security personnel and undercover secret service agents. And the Shemoneh Esrei is “protected” by the Yetzer Harah. He knows how precious, special, and valuable having a good Shemoneh Esrei is, therefore he does everything he can to stop us from achieving that goal. He causes us to think about the most random things that take our minds off of Hashem.
This is something practical that we can strive to implement during these days of Elul, as we approach the Yomim Noraim. Don’t fight the random thoughts that come in middle of Shemoneh Esrei. The harder you resist, the harder it will be to actually get rid of those thoughts. Instead, it is much more advisable to take a step back, validate, and realize what the Yetzer Harah is trying to do. “I am having this random thought in middle of Shemoneh Esrei. Although I would rather not be thinking about this right now, I understand that it is my Yetzer Harah trying to persuade me away from connecting to Hashem on a very deep and real level.” Then proceed with your Tefillah.
May Hashem give us the strength to overcome this inner battle and attain a level where we can connect to Him with purity, clarity, and sheer holiness.
Have a holy Shabbos!