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How am I supposed to be connecting to G-d. I need some sort of mental framework or concept with which to begin approaching Tefila. This could be: I want to come away getting what I want from G-d or it could be informing g-d of what is going on in my life. Are there any ספרים that discuss this? I realized the problem is not that I can't concentrate, I manage to study for hours without losing concentration. The problem is that I don't know how to approach Tefila. This is probably a large topic. Recommended Sefarim would be great, if there are any. For example, what was the Chazon Ish working so hard at during his Tefila. It can't be just concentrating on the words. The words of Tefila have no meaning unless we place them in some sort of mental framework. I hope my question is clear. Thanks

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  • The entire Chabad Chassidus is based on this. Some advice: learn 1 random chapter of Tanya before davening, and/or the beginning of chapter 41. There are many letters where the Rebbe told people to learn chapter 41, and it specifically says there that one should think about those concepts before tefilllin. Also the siddur with dach by the mittler rebbe is a very intense elaboration on the nusach haari, at least And contains other parts from other nuschaos. Chabad.org has some snippets of it Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 6:51
  • highly recommended shiur, which transformed my davening: youtube.com/watch?v=-zmEU79hUVA&ab_channel=RabbiYoniKatz
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 15:04
  • I recommend a sefer called B'Yam Derachecha. It is also learned and recorded by R' Moshe Weinberger on YUTorah. I think the name of the series is Avodah leMaaseh.
    – Binyomin
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 15:32
  • Also read a short essay called "Davening on Hot Coals". For me it was extremely powerful. torahlearningcenter.com/davening-on-hot-coals
    – Binyomin
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 8:52

4 Answers 4

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This is a very important question, but I think you are phrasing it wrong. Let me answer in a way that is a little too strong, for clarity:
You are not supposed to think of anything when you are davening. You are supposed to be talking, speaking to G-d. Or sometimes, speaking before him.
When you say "Hello!" to your wife, you do not think,
"hello [ he-loh, huh-, hel-oh ], interjection - a sprightly greeting".
You speak English, and that is all included in what you do and feel when you say it.
Before the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah came along to establish our fixed prayers, this is how everyone prayed. They asked G-d for things they needed, they thanked him for his help, they praised him for his wonders. On the simplest level, there was no way for them to pray without kavannah; they said what they wanted to say.
Now the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah have given us better, profoundly deeper wordings for all our prayers. They have also introduced the possibility of saying them by rote. But it does not need to be that way.
Sometimes I write down what I want to say ahead of time, to be sure I say it properly. They are still my words.
Sometimes my friend helps me out, writing down what I should say, and I read that. They are still my words, still reflect what I am trying to say.
Sometimes I don't even speak the language, but they are still my words! I want to say those things, but I don't know how. Hashem, this is what I would say, if I could. David Hamelech said it so well, please take his profound words as if they were mine. This was the way of so many of our bubbies in the old country, who would wet their Tehillims with their tears though they spoke only Yiddish and could not have translated a word.

When I am in the middle part of the Amidah, I am asking Hashem for the help we all need. When I am saying Pesukei D'zimrah, I am standing before a great king, singing his praises. At the last part of the Amidah, I am thanking him for hearing me out, and so often helping me.
When I say Shema, I am not speaking to Hashem. Rather, I am listening, standing before him reading his words from the Torah, sincerely reciting a Pledge of Allegiance that we always recite at the beginning and end of our day, and that our sages decreed should be said before we dare to stand before him.
When I listen to Chazaras Hashatz, I always imagined that I am a person who came as part of a group who went to the king, politely attentive to our representative as he lists our prayers. But I saw that the Yesod V'shoresh Ha'avodah says that I should imagine as if I am saying the prayers myself, so I'm not sure about that.
We are always talking to Hashem, or before him, but there are many different roles.
Certainly, in any of these, I will not keep checking my watch, or think about something else while I'm rattling off my list. That would be a whole different kind of conversation, with my wife or with Hashem. Not the kind that brings anyone closer.

Chazal gave us various ways to help us picture properly what we are doing. For instance, in Gemara Brachos 31b it says that one should not pray in a casual way, but like a poor man begging for a crust of bread so that he shouldn't starve; he will maybe ask more strenuously than is completely polite because he is desperate. And other such ways: Yesod V'shoresh Ha'avodah has hundreds of them from one end of our avodah to the other, indicating what we are doing as we say each individual part.

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By way of introduction, the starting point is to have an awareness of whom you are praying before. If you can channel the mindset that you are standing before the Divine Presence it helps to provide a much greater level of awareness that helps you find a state of clarity when praying. It is this starting point that helps clear the mind so that you can concentrate and think about what you are saying.

Rambam on Tefillah & bircas Kohanim 4:16 (worthwhile looking at the whole chapter) writes:

כֵּיצַד הִיא הַכַּוָּנָה. שֶׁיְּפַנֶּה אֶת לִבּוֹ מִכָּל הַמַּחֲשָׁבוֹת וְיִרְאֶה עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא עוֹמֵד לִפְנֵי הַשְּׁכִינָה. לְפִיכָךְ צָרִיךְ לֵישֵׁב מְעַט קֹדֶם הַתְּפִלָּה כְּדֵי לְכַוֵּן אֶת לִבּוֹ וְאַחַר כָּךְ יִתְפַּלֵּל בְּנַחַת וּבְתַחֲנוּנִים וְלֹא יַעֲשֶׂה תְּפִלָּתוֹ כְּמִי שֶׁהָיָה נוֹשֵׂא מַשּׂאוֹי וּמַשְׁלִיכוֹ וְהוֹלֵךְ לוֹ. לְפִיכָךְ צָרִיךְ לֵישֵׁב מְעַט אַחַר הַתְּפִלָּה וְאַחַר כָּךְ יִפָּטֵר. חֲסִידִים הָרִאשׁוֹנִים הָיוּ שׁוֹהִין שָׁעָה אַחַת קֹדֶם תְּפִלָּה וְשָׁעָה אַחַת לְאַחַר תְּפִלָּה וּמַאֲרִיכִין בִּתְפִלָּה שָׁעָה

What is meant by [proper] intention? One should clear his mind from all thoughts and envision himself as standing before the Divine Presence. Therefore, one must sit a short while before praying in order to focus his attention and then pray in a pleasant and supplicatory fashion. One should not pray as one carrying a burden who throws it off and walks away. Therefore, one must sit a short while after praying, and then withdraw. The pious ones of the previous generations would wait an hour before praying and an hour after praying. They would [also] extend their prayers for an hour.

The next step is to understand what you are saying. Numerous sefarim speak about פירוש המילים - explaining the words. If you find some time to learn some of the tefillos, translating the words (or purchase a siddur with translation / interlinear formatting) it will allow you to also concentrate more as you have more of an awareness as to what you are saying.

With this in mind we can now hone in on what actually to think about. The shemoneh esrei is a good starting point with specific areas to focus on whether it be wisdom, health, moshiach etc.

The first answer has listed some of the classic seforim that explore kavanna by tefilla but there are also a lot of amazing English seforim that will help in this regard:

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This problem of Davening is not a unique problem. I have spent a long time trying to understand this problem. Rabbi Wosner writes about this struggle with the same problem https://hebrewbooks.org/1417 the first responsa.
Based on your wording: "The problem is that I don't know how to approach Tefila." perhaps a greater understanding of Hashem and how to view his presence in this world could lead to a greater Davening.
Understanding Hashem: נפש החיים, תניא, מכתב מאליהו, עלי שור
Teffila understanding: artscroll siddur, עלי שור, ר' שמשון פינקוס

Good Luck

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    I like this. The main barrier to tefilla is that we don't know who we are talking to. If we did, that will turn it into a real experience.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 15:02
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The Nefesh Hachayim section 2 chapter 13 says (translation from sefaria):

והעצה היעוצה על זה. הוא כמו שאמר המגיד להב''י באזהרה ב' שבריש הספ' מגיד מישרים ז''ל. ליזהר מלחשוב בשעת תפלה בשום מחשבה אפילו של תורה ומצות כי אם בתיבות התפלה עצמם. And the advice offered about this is as the Maggid stated to the Beit Yosef in the second warning at the beginning of the book Maggid Meisharim—this is what he said: “to be careful of thinking any thought during prayer, even related to Torah and mitzvote, other than the words of the prayer themselves.”

דוק בדבריו שלא אמר לכוון בכוונת התיבות. כי באמת בעומק פנימיות כוונת התפלה. אין אתנו יודע עד מה. כי גם מה שנתגלה לנו קצת כוונות התפלה מרבותינו הראשונים ז''ל קדישי עליונין. ועד אחרון הרב הקדוש איש אלקים נורא האריז''ל. אשר הפליא הגדיל לעשות כוונות נפלאים. אינם בערך אף כטפה מן הים כלל נגד פנימיות עומק כוונת אנשי כנ''הג מתקני התפלה. שהיו ק''כ זקנים ומהם כמה נביאים. Pay close attention to his words, that he didn’t say to attend to the intention of the words, for in truth, none of us understand the slightest about the depths of the inner meaning of the prayer, for even what has been revealed to us about a few of the intentions of the prayer from our earliest sages (OBM, supernal holy ones), until the recent holy rabbi, man of God-Elohi”m, the awe-inspiring Ariza”l, who achieved wonders and greatness authoring incredible intentional-meditations654, are not, in comparison, more than a drop in the ocean relative to the inner depths of the intentions of the Notables of the Great Assembly codifiers of the prayer, who were one-hundred and-twenty elders, among them a few prophets.

וכל מבין יבין. דלא איתי אנש על יבשתא שיוכל לתקן תקון נפלא ונורא כזה. לכלול ולגנוז במטבע תפלה קבועה וסדורה בנוסח א'. התקונים של כל העולמות עליונים ותחתונים וסדרי פרקי המרכבה. ושבכל פעם שמתפללין יוגרם תקונים חדשים בסדור העולמות והכחות והמשכת מוחין חדשים אחרים. שמעת שתקנוה עד ביאת הגואל ב''ב לא היה ולא יהיה שום תפלה בפרטות דומה לחברתה שקודם לה ואחריה כלל. דלבושין דלביש בצפרא לא לביש ברמשא ודלביש ברמשא כו' כמ''ש בתקונים תכ''ב. וכן כל יום לחבירו שלפניו ואחריו. ולכן ארז''ל (חגיגה ט' ע''ב וברבה במדבר פ''ט) מעוות לא יוכל לתקון זה שביטל ק''ש כו' או תפלה כו'. וכמ''ש באורך בפע''ח פ''ז משער התפלה ע''ש. And those who are capable of understanding will understand that there’s no one currently in the world who is capable of codifying such a wondrous and awesome rectification655, to incorporate into and to hide in the formula of the prayer, permanently fixed and configured in a single formula, the rectifications for all the worlds, upper and lower, and the configurations of the components of the Vehicle656. And each occasion of praying causes new rectifications in the configuration of the worlds and the powers, and the drawing down of other new mo-khin657. From the moment that it was codified until the coming of the redeemer658 (quickly, in our day), there never was and never will be another prayer that, in its details, resembles others that came before and after in any way. “The garments worn in the morning are not worn in the evening, and those worn in the evening…”, as is written in the Tikkoonim (Tikkoon 22), and so too each day relative to the ones that preceded and follow. And for that reason the sages (OBM) stated (Chagigah 9b, and in B’midbar Rabba, chapter 9): “‘what is distorted can not be corrected’ (Kohelet 1:15)—one who missed the k’ree-at sh’ma659… or prayer”; and as is written at length in the Pri Etz Chayyim, chapter 7 of Sha-ar Ha-t’feela, refer there [for more details].

והוא בלתי אפשר אם לא ע''י הנבואה העליונה ורוח קדשו ית' אשר הופיע עליהם הופעה עצומה בעת תקון נוסח מטבע התפלה והברכות. שם הוא ית''ש בפיהם אלו התיבות ספורות וגנוזות בתוכם כל התקונים. לזאת מי הוא אשר עמד בסוד ה' על עומק כוונתו ית''ש. איזה דרך ישכון אורה של כל תיבה פרטית מהם: And it would have been impossible if not via the supernal level of prophecy and His holy spirit that manifested over them in an enormous manifestation during the codification of the wording of the formula of the prayer and the blessings. He (blessed be His name) placed in their mouths these numbered words, and hidden within them are all the rectifications. For that reason, who can understand God’s hidden secrets to the depths of His (blessed be His name) intention, on which path will the light of each specific word settle660?

אלא העיקר בעבודת התפלה. שבעת שהאדם מוציא מפיו כל תיבה מהתפלה. יצייר לו אז במחשבתו אותה התיבה באותיותיה כצורתה ולכוין להוסיף על ידה כח הקדושה שיעשה פרי למעלה להרבות קדושתם ואורם. כמש''ל בפ''י שלכן נקראת התפלה דברים העומדים ברומו של עולם שכל תיבה בצורתה ממש היא העול' למעלה מעלה כל אחת למקור' ושרשה לפעול פעולות ותקוני' נפלאים. Rather, the essence of the prayer service is that, at the moment that the person pronounces each word of the prayer, he should visualize in his thoughts that word as its letters, as it [fem.] appears661, [*] and to intend to increase thereby the power of holiness so that it will bear fruit above to multiply their holiness and light, as I wrote previously in chapter ten. For that reason prayer is called: “words that stand at the pinnacle of the world” (Berakhot 6b): that each word, as it actually appears, it is what rises higher and higher, each one to its source and root, to perform wondrous actions and rectifications.

והיא סגולה נפלאה בדוק ומנוסה למרגילים עצמם בזה. לבטל ולהסיר מעליו בזה כל מחשבות ההבלים הטורדות ומניעות טהרת המחשבה והכוונה. וכל אשר יוסיף הרגלו בזה. יתוסף לו טהרה במחשבתו בתפלה. והיא כוונה פשטית: And this is a marvelous remedy, tried and tested, for those who get themselves used to practicing this, to annul and remove from upon them in this way any vain thoughts that cause anxiety and that obstruct purity of thought and attention, and anyone who increases the regularity of this practice will increase his purity of thought during prayer, and this is simple attention/intention.662

הגהה: והגם שהלכה פסוקה בש''ס שתפלה נאמרת בכל לשון. היינו לצאת ידי מצות תפלה כמו שנתבאר לעיל סוף ש''א שבכל המצות ואפי' מצות תפלה שנקראת עבודה שבלב. עכ''ז עיקרן לעכובא הוא חלק המעשי שבהן. אמנם למצוה מן המובחר ודאי צריך לצרף גם טוהר המחשבה וכוונה שלימה. ולפי גודל טוהר הכוונה כן תגדל מעשה המצוה ובפרט עבודת הלב שבתפלה. עם כי מי שהתפלל בכל לשון יצא י''ח. אבל אין ערוך למי שמתפלל בלה''ק באלו התיבות דוקא העומדי' ברומו של עולם ומדבק כל כחותיו בהם: Annotation: And even though there is a firm legal ruling in the Sha”s (Berakhot 13) that prayer can be recited in any language, that [ruling] is about the fulfillment of the minimal requirements of the mitzva of prayer. As was explained previously at the end of the first Gate, for all mitzvote, and even the mitzva of prayer that is called (Berakhot 31a) “service using the heart/mind”, it is so that the key component to fulfill the minimal requirement is the physical action. However, to perform an especially desirable mitzva, he certainly must combine purity of thought and complete attention/intention. And the greater the purity of thought, that also improves the performance of the mitzva, and specifically the “service using the heart/mind” as in prayer. And though one who prays in any language fulfills his obligation, there is no comparison to one who prays in the holy language using those definite words that stand at the pinnacle of the world, and cleaves to them with all his strength.

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