Friday, October 10, 2008

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - Artificial Kavana?

(Picture courtesy of coffeeroastery.com.au)

A Simple Jew asks:

Do you think there is anything wrong with drinking a cup of coffee before davening Shachris to attempt to improve kavana, or would you consider the use of an artificial stimulant to be less than ideal?

Dixie Yid answers:

I will answer your question the way you asked it, from the perspective of my thoughts and feelings, and not as a halachic answer. There are opinions on both sides of this. The Mishnah Berura holds that only black coffee or plain tea is permitted before davening, while the Aruch Hashulchan holds that coffee with milk and sugar are okay if they are there to make it more filling and palatable so that one can concentrate better during davening. However, you also pointed out to me that it's brought down in Sichos HaRan #277 that "The Rebbe said that he never as much as drank water before his morning prayers. He was greatly opposed to those who drank coffee and other beverages before davening." The bottom line is that there are opinions on all sides of the issues but if anything I say conflicts which someone's rebbe's psak for them, that person should follow that approach, irrespective of anything I or he, himself, thinks.

I personally don't like the idea of being so dependent on injecting a certain chemical into my body if I cannot function without it. Therefore, personally, I do have coffee at seder in the mornings 2-3 hours before Shacharis, but I get decaf coffee so I don't become dependent on the caffeine to wake me up. My main reason for drinking it is to avoid being hungry during learning and davening so I do put (lowfat) milk and Splenda in the coffee to make it taste good as well.

One time, based on something written in Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, I tried drinking the coffee without any sweetener. The idea is to do little things once in a while differently from what one wants to do in order to break the body's hold over the neshama. The problem is that if one lives his life on a daily basis in a way that reflects the unspoken attitude that everything must be done in the most comfortable and physically pleasing way, this can lead to an attitude that could lead one not to choose to keep halachos that one doesn't find comfortable since he's in the habit of only doing what's comfortable. By occasionally breaking one's pattern of doing what's comfortable, he can break this habit and live with the attitude that ruchnius, spirituality, is his standard way of life regardless of his comfort in gashmius, physicality.

However, this attempt at periodic unsweetened coffee was not too successful. It was so unpleasant to me that I must have gagged for about an hour from the taste! Perhaps I gave up too quickly and I didn't daven for success so it might be worth trying again!

My rebbe once pointed out another manifestation of people's dependence on their creature comforts, which have the effect of making one's physical world more permanent and important. He pointed out that people have these favorite mugs that they always have with them every morning and they hang onto them like children hang onto like a security blanket.

The common denominator is that we should remember the lessons of the Yuntif of Sukkos, which is coming up. We must do little things to remind ourselves that our world is only a Diras Arai, a temporary dwelling, a Sukkah. While our true, permanent world, our Diras Keva, is the spiritual world, the world to come. Whether it be with caffeine, coffee, mugs or any other manifestation of our connection to the physical world as our true and real life, it's important to do little things in order to remind ourselves that these are not what life is about.

15 Comments:

At October 10, 2008 at 5:53:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another source/approach to consider is that of Lubavitch. Two things come to mind.

A - Lubavitchers have a minhag of allowing food and drink before davening. My rav said that (practically speaking) it comes from when the wife of one of the later rebbes was sick, she would eat and drink before davening, and it became an accepted minhag (though I don't know if it is universally accepted in Lubavitch).

B - There is a story of one of the later rebbes that he had an audience of a number of people, and they were preparing to daven mincha together, but the rebbitzen was also bringing them tea. A debate ensued as to whether they should daven first then drink the tea, or drink the tea first then daven. The rebbe (don't remember which) said that whichever they did first, they would hurry through to get to the second; it would be better to have the tea, then daven, rather than daven with less than ideal kavanah, rushing to get the tea.

I tend to eat and drink before davening as it eliminates one (of admittedly millions) of potential distractions that might impede my tefillah.

 
At October 10, 2008 at 9:46:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard from R' Moshe Wolfson, shlita, that there are tzaddikim who have an inyan to drink coffee before davening, and it does have a chashivus to do a physical action that will help a person have more energy during davening. However, he said that one should not make an official kvius to sit down have a cup of coffee.

 
At October 10, 2008 at 10:05:00 AM EDT, Blogger DixieYid said...

Anon 5:53,

A: As to how it's done in Lubavitch, it's not totally pashut. It may have also come from a time when Lubavitch Chassidim spent several hours of avodah in preperation for davening. It is understandable, in such a case, why you would both permit eating before davening so as to be able to concentrate on one's avodah for several hours before davening and it also makes it understandable why davening would start relatively late to allow time for several hours of preperation.

However, these svorahs would not be applicable with Lubavitch Chassidim who get up shortly before a 10:00 minyan. It wouldn't make sense to have davening be so late. Nor would it make sense to be makil and allow eating and drinking before davening if one isn't doing several hours of avodah and learning before davening either.

However, obviously, if a particular Chassid still does follow the practice of doing a lot of learning and avodah before davening, then all of these svorahs would still apply as well.

B: As to your second point, the svorah makes sense. If you need to eat to concentrate it makes sense. But I think it's also talui in the first chakira regarding whether or not this would apply in your situation. If you are getting up right before davening, you shouldn't need to eat to be able to concentrate. You could just have a drink or some coffee to stave off hunger for an hour or so till after davening. If however, you have a seder in learning, hisbonenus, or whatever before davening, then the svorah of eating beforehand to avoid distractions makes a lot of sense. But I think the whole thing, from the Lubavitch perspective, depends a lot on how much avodah/learning/hisbonenus a person actually does before davening.

Anon 9:46:

I hadn't heard that angle before. Very interesting. Jut the aspect of doing a physical act toward the purpose of having more concentration during davening has a significance on it's own since it's for that purpose! Interesting!

-Dixie Yid

 
At October 10, 2008 at 12:38:00 PM EDT, OpenID bahaltener said...

While the Rebbe sais in Sichoys hoRan that he was against drinking before tfilo, he also speaks against extra stringencies (chumroys yeseyroys), i.e. in case when they make problems for one's avoydas hashem. If one feels week without drinking, and poyskim allow it, it will be a chumro yeseyro not to drink.

Ramo miFano for example says, that drinking coffee in our generations isn't even considered food, but is like a medicine, and is therefore permitted. Mishmeres Sholoym writes similarly, that since people today are weaker, it is more permissible to drink than before.

 
At October 10, 2008 at 12:49:00 PM EDT, Blogger Hillel said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At October 10, 2008 at 12:50:00 PM EDT, OpenID bahaltener said...

The common denominator is that we should remember the lessons of the Yuntif of Sukkos, which is coming up. We must do little things to remind ourselves that our world is only a Diras Arai, a temporary dwelling, a Sukkah. While our true, permanent world, our Diras Keva, is the spiritual world, the world to come. Whether it be with caffeine, coffee, mugs or any other manifestation of our connection to the physical world as our true and real life, it's important to do little things in order to remind ourselves that these are not what life is about.

Baal Shem Tov sais, that one's possessions contain nitzoytzoys of one's neshomo, and using them (and taking care of them) is part of the process of aliyas hanitzoytzoys. Therefore one's attachment to certain objects indicates that, and should not be dismissed as negative or irrelevant. I.e. these (and not other) objects are relevant for certain neshomo, until their nitzoytzoys are uplifted and the object ends it's useful existence.

Therefore one shouldn't separate the physical from spiritual (this is kind of a pirud) saying that one should only escape the transitional physical into the eternal spiritual. Rather one should find the spiritual (nitzoytzoys and etc) inside the physical and uplift it therefore unifying it.

 
At October 10, 2008 at 3:39:00 PM EDT, Blogger DixieYid said...

bahaltener:

If, according to the Ramo miPano, coffee is like a medicine, then it would be forbidden to drink on Shabbos, right?

Also, with regard to not sepperating from the physical (and uplifting it instead), how would you suggest one be mekayem the inyan of remembering that the physical world is only a diras arai?

-Dixie Yid

 
At October 10, 2008 at 4:02:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great post. I also tried the Bilvavi 'coffee suggestion' only for a week.

I'm at a stage where any "artifical Kavana" is hopefully in the category of "she'lo lishma bo lishma".

 
At October 11, 2008 at 2:12:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Moses said...

Behaltener and DY:

"Therefore one shouldn't separate the physical from spiritual (this is kind of a pirud) saying that one should only escape the transitional physical into the eternal spiritual. Rather one should find the spiritual (nitzoytzoys and etc) inside the physical and uplift it therefore unifying it."

Separation is part of uplifting nitzotzot. Part of Baal Shem Tov's derech is "hachnaa, havdala (separation), hamtaka". In order to uplift the nitzotzot in an object (hamtaka) one has to first separate them from the klipa (the physicality of it). So one's attachment is good only if one is attached to the nitzotzot themselves, not to the physicality! (It's a very fine line) One should certainly NOT be attached to the object itself. And separation from the physicality is usually the most important part of the avoda, at least for the common man (not a tzaddik). Hamtaka (uplifting of the sparks) is more in the realm of the tzaddikim, or perhaps those truly attached to them.

 
At October 11, 2008 at 9:04:00 PM EDT, Blogger Menashe said...

I've unfortunately seen the not infrequent attitude that it is somehow a Lubavitch minhag to davka eat before davening. That's of course ridiculous. IF (and this is a big if) you will not be able to concentrate throughout your davening than it's permitted to have a coffee. And if that still won't be enough than you should have a bit of mezonos.

I personally only eat before davening on shabbos when the davening both begins later and ends considerably later than during the week. There is also the issur of fasting even half a day on shabbos so if davening is scheduled for 10 in order to allow time for mivkah and chassidus, then it's likely not to finish until well after chatzois. In that case to at least drink something in the morning could be a chiyuv of sorts.

 
At October 11, 2008 at 9:10:00 PM EDT, OpenID bahaltener said...

A correction: The issue of coffee as refuo is brought in Shu"t hoRama"z, not in Ram"o miFano, sorry for misquote.

Regarding Shabbos - I can't say whether it goes into such category as curing on Shabbos or not. The Rama"z didn't speak about it. Lemayse those who allow it allow it on Shabbos as well.

 
At October 11, 2008 at 9:17:00 PM EDT, OpenID bahaltener said...

with regard to not sepperating from the physical (and uplifting it instead), how would you suggest one be mekayem the inyan of remembering that the physical world is only a diras arai?

In Baal Shem Tov context, it will mean, that the chitzoynius of physicality is diras aroi, while it's pnimius (i.e. nitzoytziys, the neshomo of the thing) is the nitzchius. In Chasidus this perspective is all around, i.e. finding Oylom haBo inside Oylom haZe here and now.

Moses is right, that this involves the focus on the pnimius of the object, which is the part of birur of klipas noyga (mixture of toyv ve-ra), and involves the separating of the evil part.

 
At October 11, 2008 at 10:21:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Jonathan said...

The Komarna Rebbe in Zohar Chai mentions regarding those who drink tea or coffee prior to tefilla, that according to his view they are complete resho'im.

He says if a person needs coffee or tea he should say kerias shema, and a tefillah ketzarah (shortened form of shemonah esreh) first. Otherwise they are giving priority to the body over the spirit.

That being said, I understand a Simple Jew's question as relating to improving kavana in prayer. Is caffeine-induced euphoria, which can greatly heighten the intensity of kavanah in prayer, really for the best?

I think this is complex question, and is distinct from the issue of whether a person needs caffeine as a medicine, i.e. to prevent withdrawal headaches.

I think it is related to the idea of the use of other intoxicants. There are some concerns there, both physically and spiritually. Perhaps the euphoric effect is damaging to the body (it is generally followed by a "crash" afterwards). Spiritually speaking, perhaps the high comes from the sitra achra.

 
At October 12, 2008 at 11:02:00 AM EDT, Blogger Yirmiahu said...

"If, according to the Ramo miPano, coffee is like a medicine, then it would be forbidden to drink on Shabbos, right?"

No. It is permited to eat or drink food for medicinal benifit on Shabbos providing that one does so in the regular manner. For example one may drink scotch for a sore throught but one cannot gargle with it.

 
At October 12, 2008 at 3:21:00 PM EDT, Blogger DixieYid said...

Menashe,

I hear what you're saying. I don't know how most Lubavitchers see their minhag, though I was responding to the first anon's comment, and I inferred that he's a Lubavitcher as well.

Behaltener and Yirmiahu,

I was speaking kind of tounge in cheek about the coffee=medicine=asur on Shabbos thing. Sorry if it didn't come off that way. :-)

Behaltener,

What you're saying makes sense. But wouldn't Moses' comment be correct that what you're talking about can only be done effectively if it is preceeded by hachna'ah and havdala? Otherwise, most people would get mixed up and attach themselves merely to the physical, perhaps with the illusion that they are connecting to the nitzotzos within...

-Dixie Yid

 

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