Mishnah Berachos 5:1 – Preparation Before Prayer
Continuing with prayer, the Mishnah addresses the recommended state-of-mind to acquire, before the Shemonah Esrei, standing prayer, when we stand before H’Shem as if standing in front of a king. (And how much more so, since He is sovereign King of the Universe). The required state to foster is one of seriousness, denoting humility and awe before H’Shem. This is based upon the following pasuk (verse): serve the L-RD with fear [awe], and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11, JPS 1917 Tanach). In other words, the psalmist relates the understanding that even while rejoicing, we should still simultaneously tremble with fear, so that we do not get carried away with the nature of our rejoicing. This is true and essential reverence, in service towards H’Shem. There is not laxity permitted in regard to this manner of approaching H’Shem; yet, too often this ideal is diminished by our sense of expediency, casualness, and distractedness.
How can a sense of gravity be acquired, before approaching H’Shem in prayer? The Mishnah states that it was the practice of pious men, to take an hour ahead of time to prepare for prayer. They would focus their hearts on HaMakom, the place where G-d resides in Shomayim (Heaven). Today, not many are able to cordon off an hour of time before prayer; however, there is a custom, particularly amongst Chassidim to study an inspirational text from chassidus before prayer, in order to elevate one’s thoughts toward G-d. Thus, by meditating on G-d’s greatness, calming the mind through breathe work, or drinking a cup of tea while reflecting on kitvei kodesh (holy scripture), these may all be acceptable means of preparation before prayer. (However, on a personal note, I do not recommend the use of a mantra; the idea is to uplift our thoughts, not numb the mind).