This week’s parsha tells of the Jews who were dying in the plague, and of Pinchas, who prayed for them. Of this it is written: “Pinchas stood and prayed, and the plague stopped” (Tehillim 106:30).
This brings us to the topic of standing in one place during prayer, as the Gemoro (Berachos 6b) says:
Rabbi Chelbo said in the name of Rav Huna: Whoever designates a permanent place for his prayer, the G–d of Avraham assists him. And when he dies, it is said of him, “Woe, such a humble person; woe, such a pious person, among the students of Avraham our father!” From where do we know that Avraham our father designated a place? As it says, “Avraham arose early in the morning [and went to] the place where he had stood” (Bereshis 19:27) and “standing” means prayer, as it says, “Pinchas stood and prayed” (Tehillim 106:30).Below I have compiled sources from the Rebbeim of Chabad on this topic:
The Alter Rebbe writes in a holy letter:
Once the Chazan begins the prayer of Hodu no one in the room where the Minyan is held may walk back and forth; it is especially forbidden to walk in front of those who are praying. This is completely forbidden by law of the Talmud. One who violates this should be distanced [from visiting the Alter Rebbe].The Mitteler Rebbe writes in his holy letters:
I have personally observed on several occasions an evil custom, one that has evolved amongst the masses of Chabad chassidim from great to small, though it is not intentional, for they do not know the root of the matter. Each one looks at his fellow and the young look at the adults, until the custom spread widely that one cannot concentrate on meditation [on Hashem’s greatness] in prayer unless one walks back and forth during prayer from corner to corner and runs with all his might as if he is greatly preoccupied with meditation. However, if he stands in his place, [it is thought that] he will attain nothing in his profound concentration and [efforts at] comprehension.
Oh, my brothers, do not treat my words lightly. They are said with sincerity, so may they be accepted eagerly, for they are said purely for your benefit. In worldly matters will any intelligent person say that walking and haste foster better concentration? Even in worldly matters it is the opposite—if one wishes to concentrate and make one’s mind up about something, he should stand or sit and reflect. Unless he is already very preoccupied, in which case he may come to pace back and forth automatically, without even realizing it at all. This is in fact the cause for this wicked, erroneous practice that has evolved among Chabad chassidim from times of old, for they witnessed those of a high caliber meditating and excited, who in their preoccupation would run around tirelessly.
This too is imaginary, and in fact Hashem does not desire these people. For if one does indeed have what to concentrate on, he should sit specifically in his place, and return to Hashem with a lowly spirit, for he should know before Whom he stands. As is known, the whole concept of prayer in its root is founded on standing. This is known as “designates a permanent place for one’s prayer,” and it is written of anyone who does this that “the G–d of Avraham assists him, as it is written, ‘[Pinchas] stood [and prayed]’ ( Tehillim 106:30), and standing refers [only to prayer].”
The ones who know [mystical concepts] are aware of the secret of the matter: Standing is an external form of nullification, with one’s body. This is higher than internal nullification [to Hashem] in one’s mind and heart. The proof is from a mortal king, before whom the main nullification is external. All the profound intentions one should engage in during Shemonah Esrei are said while standing. The same goes for Pesukei Dezimra and Shema and its blessings—it must all be said standing in one place, and one must know before Whom one stands ...
However, when we speak of reflecting upon G–d’s blessed Essence, it must be in a state of nullification while standing specifically in one place, as Eliyahu said: “By the life of Hashem before Whom I stood” (Melachim 1:17:1). We find the same concept in several verses, such as “Avraham was still standing [before Hashem]” (Bereishis 18:22), etc. The verses “walk before Me and be pure” (ibid. 17:1) and “Hashem, before Whom I have walked” (ibid. 24:40) refers to [one’s conduct] every day—that one should walk in the ways of G–d, and not deviate to the right or left, as is known to all.
It should not be necessary to explain something that is obvious to children. This declaration of mine is only intended to eradicate [this idea] from the hearts of those who erroneously attribute [their behavior to the example of] the great ones, who did not know [proper conduct], and after whom the masses followed, who did not even understand the meaning of the words [of prayer]. They too walk around while in deep concentration.
What a disgrace and tremendous desecration of Hashem’s name has resulted from this foolish custom. It cannot be described in text how much this has caused damage in all areas that require the acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven and [of internalizing] Chassidus, etc. The wise ones will grasp these words of truth, and let the adults warn and command the young ones, and may this matter be abolished as if it never existed.
It is my duty to remind those who strive for this all their lives that they should remove sorrow and groaning from the heart of every man who trembles before Hashem and has pity for the honor of his G–d, which has been desecrated without any benefit at all. I testify that they should increase light specifically through the divine service of deep concentration, but they should not make breaches through walking, that is so idle and empty that it cannot be written. I witnessed all these walkers with my very own eyes, and my heart broke within me at these vain fancies. How long will the Satan dance?!
Thus, my beloved brothers, if you truly desire the closeness of Hashem, you will not listen to the voice of those who spread vain rumors. Rather, you will believe me in everything that I write, that this walking is nothing but foolishness and a rejection of the yoke [of the kingdom of Heaven]. It is merely a habit and a practice learned from what their eyes saw. Turn aside from this path of foolishness, which prevents [one from coming close to Hashem]. Every city and Minyan that accepted these words of truth should inform me, and then I will know that they are faithful to Chassidus, etc. They should do as follows: The Gabbai should declare before prayer: “Let there be a pleasant silence, with prayer aloud,” and also a warning against walking.
The words of the one who pleads, and seeks your welfare with sincerity.
... Oh, how bitter it is for me when I see those who walk during davvenen from one corner to another, preoccupied with their thoughts that are empty and dry of any excitement; in my opinion it is clear that the light of Hashem has never touched them in their lives.
Kuntres HaHispaalus, Sefer Hamaamorim Kuntreisim, p. 42.
... One should pay no attention to those who become engrossed in their thoughts and walk back and forth. It has already been pointed out that these walkers should be stopped, and every person should stand in his place ...
The Rebbe Rashab writes in Kuntres HaTefillah:
One should also stand in one place during prayer, and not walk back and forth.The Previous Rebbe says in a sicha:
Firstly, walking around during prayer distracts one from concentration and contemplation. Some people fool themselves, and claim that specifically when they walk around they are able to mediate better, with a sense of expansion in their mind and heart. This is a complete mistake, for this is nothing but a superficial expansion of the spirit and a sensation of the self; however, it has no internal impact. [On the contrary,] for one to attain true meditation in an expanded state of mind, in a manner that will affect him one internally, walking around detracts.
Moreover, it is unavoidable that [one who paces back and forth] will see everything that is happening inside and outside, and this will bother and distract him. Therefore one should stand in one place, and focus his mind and heart on prayer alone.
Kuntres HaTefillah, p. 23.
I wish to rectify a tremendous area of neglect. Those who pace around during prayer, and especially outside (on the roof)—this is against Halacha. When one walks around during prayer, he welcomes the foreign thoughts. Not only does he fail to struggle against the foreign thoughts—he welcomes them.
You don’t just know me from today. I have always been accustomed to speaking softly. ... However, now I am speaking in a harsh manner, because it is of the utmost importance for everyone in terms of the life of his soul and the souls of his family.
I will relate a story. After my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, reached the age of Bar Mitzvah, his father, the Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek summoned him, saying: “To know the Talmud is not a high level. To learn Ein Yaakov (a compilation of the Aggada in the Talmud) and know Aggada—that would be an accomplishment.” The Rebbe Maharash immediately began to study Ein Yaakov daily. It used to be the case that when [a Rebbe] would say something, people would immediately obey.
Once the Tzemach Tzedek entered the room while the Rebbe Maharash was studying Ein Yaakov, and he found him studying the section in tractate Berachos (6b):
When Hashem enters the synagogue and does not find ten people, he immediately becomes angered, as it is written: “Why did I come, and there was no man ... ” (Yeshaya 50:2).After this statement, the Talmud continues: “Whoever designates a permanent place for his prayer, the G–d of Avraham assists him.” On the words “the G–d of Avraham” Rashi comments: “who fixed a place for his prayer,” and on the words “will help him,” Rashi comments: “in the way that he helped Avraham.”
The Rebbe Maharash paused when learning this statement, and the Tzemach Tzedek asked him: “What do you find difficult?” “I find the juxtaposition of these statements difficult,” the Rebbe Maharash responded. “Also, why does Rashi divide the one phrase—’the G–d of Avraham will help him’—in two?”
“It may be interpreted as follows,” Tzemach Tzedek said. “The statement: ‘The G–d of Avraham—who fixed a place for his prayer” means that the G–d of Avraham fixed a place for His prayer. It does not refer to Avraham, but to the G–d of Avraham, and it is saying that He fixed a place for Himself. I.e., [Hashem says that] “In this place I wish to hear the person’s prayer, and not elsewhere; elsewhere I don’t want to hear him at all.”
I want these words not to remain on paper; rather, they should be engraved in the mind and heart of everyone. Out of love for one’s fellow Jew, everyone who heard this should inform his friend who was not present here.
Sefer HaSichos 5696-Winter 5700 pp. 284-285.
- Walking back and forth during tefilla is forbidden by Halacha.
- The Alter Rebbe declared that those who act in this way would not be admitted to Yechidus when they would come to visit him.
- Pacing back and forth doesn’t assist deeper concentration; it only detracts from it. One who truly wishes to engage in Hisbonenus must sit still.
- One should pay no attention to the poor example in this regard of some otherwise respectable chassidim.
- This practice desecrates Hashem’s Name.
- This is not a reason to cease engaging in proper Hisbonenus while sitting in one place.
- If necessary, the Gabbai should announce, in addition to other things, that no one may pace back and forth during the service.
- Those who claim that they feel a more expanded state of mind when they walk back and forth should know that this is illusory, and this practice only prevents proper concentration.
- One who paces back and forth will also be distracted from his tefilla by the things he sees in Shul.
- Rectifying this breach is of the utmost importance for everyone in terms of the life of his own soul and the souls of his family.
- Hashem doesn’t want to listen to prayers uttered when one has wandered away from one’s designated place for tefilla.
- Love of one’s fellow Jew should spur everyone who learns of the severity of walking in tefilla to influence others to be careful in this area.