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Elsewhere I ask whether it's sufficient to pray in a whisper. See there, please, for a description of whispering and how it differs from speaking quietly.

Answers to that question indicate that whispering prayers is sufficient. Those answers are IMO not completely convincing; nonetheless, let's suppose whispering prayers is, indeed, a fine way to pray.

My question now is about whispering while inhaling. It is possible — try it! — to whisper while inhaling: the same, or very nearly the same, sound issues as when whispering while exhaling. Would whispering while inhaling be a sufficient way to pray? (I suspect it may not count as speech or prayer, because the usual way of speaking is by means of exhalation.)

Any source or argument is most welcome.

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I was trying to get around to asking this; thank you for posting! – yitznewton Nov 26 '12 at 12:12
I've seen it and, rarely, done it. It tends to happen most often when someone's tired and they start whispering the words while yawning. Incidentally, it is also possible, though, much harder and less common, to vocalize words while inhaling, along the same principles. – Seth J Nov 26 '12 at 14:48
Now that's what I would call an inspirational prayer! – Dave Nov 26 '12 at 22:04
@ray, try whispering any prepared speech. You'll find (or, at least, I find) that inhaling part of it is a very natural way of speaking then. – msh210 Jul 7 '13 at 22:45
up vote 3 down vote accepted

The Nefesh HaChaim in שער ב פרק יד writes the following about prayer:

והענין שעבודת התפלה היא במקום עבודת הקרבן וכמו שענין הקרבן היה להעלות נפש הבהמה למעלה. וכל עיקר הכפר' היה תלוי בזריקת הדם הוא הנפש. וכן הקטרת הא מורים עיקרם היה לכוונת העלאת הנפש. כן עיקר ענין התפלה הוא. להעלות ולמסור ולדבק נפשו למעלה. כי כח הדבור של האדם נקרא נפש כמ"ש ויהי האדם לנפש חיה ות"א לרוח ממללא. וכן נראה לעין שבכל דבור שהאדם מוציא מפיו. יוצא מפיו רוח והבל הלב. והדבור הוא עיקר נפש האדם שזה יתרון האדם מן הבהמה. א"כ כל תיבה היוצאת מפי האדם היא כח וחלק מנפשו

Summary translation:

The purpose of prayer is, in place of sacrifice, to offer up the nefesh. Man's faculty of speech is called his nefesh. And this is observable that each utterance that a person makes brings out heat from his heart.

No heat comes out when you inhale. The Nefesh HaChaim says that breath coming out is a key feature of speech. (It is in this way that prayer is עבודה שבלב, because the faculty of speech is through the heat that comes up from the heart.)

R' Chaim Vital also associates the heat that comes out in breath as being associated with the nefesh. Likkutei Torah parshas Eikev:

וכמו שהאדם כשהוא מדבר מוציא הבל מפיו ואותו הבל הוא חלק חיותו וראיה לזה שאחר שתצא הנשמה מהגוף לא נשאר בו לא הבל ולא דיבור נמצא שאותו ההבל שיוצא מפיו בעת הדיבור הוא חלק מנשמתו. לכן נצטווינו שלא לדבר דברים בטילים שמפסיד בהם חלק נשמתו

And as when a person speaks he emits heat from his mouth, and that heat is a part of his life-force, and proof to this is that after the soul leaves the body no heat and no speech remains, we find that this heat which comes out of his mouth when he speaks is a part of his soul. Therefore we were commanded not to speak idle speech, as one [thereby] loses a part of his soul.

Therefore, according to the Nefesh Hachaim, inhaling words would not be involving one's nefesh in the prayer, and would be lacking in the avodah aspect of prayer.

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Wow. Great answer! – Yochanan Michael May 5 '14 at 19:58
@YochananMichael Thanks! – Y ez May 5 '14 at 20:04
Very interesting, but is this being stated in a preferential context, or an absolutely halachic context? Is speaking in this way still a fulfillment of tefilah even if it's not the preferred manner of doing so? – Isaac Kotlicky Dec 16 '15 at 2:28
@IsaacKotlicky The work is not a halachic work, but he says שעבודת התפלה השלימה צריכה שתהיה עם הנפש, and defines the role of nefesh in tefillah as I described - therefore I wrote "would not be considered fulfilling the עבודה of prayer." It's hard to give the feel of it in this forum, but reading ch. 10-14 gives a clear sense that he is describing the essence of what prayer is, not just a nice idea of it. – Y ez Dec 16 '15 at 4:13
@IsaacKotlicky This passage is talking about the connection between exhaling breath and speaking, and how that relates to expressing or offering one's soul in prayer, but this seems to be only insofar as exhaling is a representative action most prominently and commonly associated with speech. Therefore, the symbolic connection between offering one's soul and exhaling is really a metaphysical connection between offering one's soul and speaking in prayer. But just because exhaling is an emblematic feature of verbal prayer does not imply that it is a necessary feature of verbal prayer. – Fred Dec 16 '15 at 6:58

Yes, for sure:

Forming the words with mouth, tongue, and lips without any hearable voice is sufficient after the event. Indeed, at least some chassidim hold that shmone esrei should not be audible at all. A "backhanded" voice cannot be worse than no voice at all.

I checked my own reasoning by asking a couple of very learned and stringent people. They agreed.

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Not only Hassidim, see Birke Yosef (Orah Haim 101 Beshem HaAri, and for another insteresting opinion see Od Yosef Hai Mishpatim 3). – Hacham Gabriel Aug 11 '13 at 15:56
Quoting unusual chassisic prayer practices is not necessarily a good source for the rest of us. – Double AA Aug 11 '13 at 20:14
@DoubleAA "Any source or argument is most welcome." – Adám Aug 11 '13 at 20:59
@DoubleAa the Mekubalim also hold like this. – Hacham Gabriel Sep 10 '13 at 14:29
+1 because "Any source or argument is most welcome." – Seth J Sep 10 '13 at 15:28

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