Prayer and Learning Torah: Each in Its Own Time (Part I)
When standing before G-d in prayer or when reciting a
blessing it is forbidden to engage in any other activity. It is even forbidden
to learn silently or to look through a sefer. This prohibition is implied in
the in the verse, “If you walk with me ירקב…” (b’keri)
(Vayikra 26:21) which refers even to a person who walks with G-d—who does
mitzvos—but in an irregular or sporadic way. If it is incorrect for a person
to engage in activities which distract his attention while addressing a human
king, he certainly should not do so when addressing G-d, the King of kings.
The Ben Ish Chai mentions, for example, that the gabai tzedakah should not
count the money which was donated while praying.
Similarly, a person should not fold his talis while he is
still saying a prayer, or remove things from the table while saying the
blessing after meals.
It is forbidden to learn—even silently–or to say
tachanun during chazaras hashatz or the recitation of the kaddish because a
person is required to follow the shaliach tzibur and know when to answer “amen.”
Moreover, if there are not nine who are following the shaliach tzibur, the
blessings he recites are close to being considered brochos l’vatala.
Therefore, each person should conduct himself as though he were that essential
ninth man and listen attentively to the blessings recited by the shaliach
tzibur. A person should not learn during chazaras hashatz even if he listens
and answers “amen” to the blessings because unlearned members of the
congregation will learn from them that they need not pay attention during
chazaras hashatz and simply chat during the service. A person who learns
during the service causes others to sin. There’s a time to learn and time to
pray. The Rokaoch writes that if a person learns all day without praying, it
is as though he didn’t learn.
A person should not learn from a sefer while the
congregation is reciting the blessings before the Shma because they will learn
from him that they need not pay attention and will end up chatting. But if he
learns silently when he is not praying without looking into a sefer, it is
possible to be more lenient—but not while the chazan is reciting the kaddish,
for he has to be attentive and respond.
A person should not speak between the time he has completed
reciting the Shmoneh Esrai and chzaras hashatz because it disturbs
others who are still praying. According to sifrei kodesh, a person should not
speak until after nefilas apayim. Nevertheless, it is permitted to
respond to every davar shebikedushah before or during nefilas apayim.
If a person completes the Shmoneh Esrai but cannot step
back because the person behind him is still praying, he may learn or recite
tachanunim and bakashos even though it is forbidden to speak.
After completing the silent recitation of the Shmoneh Esrai,
the shaliach tzibur is not permitted to speak except for the sake of a
mitzvah, such as answering yihay shmay rabbah. There is an opinion that
he is forbidden to learn orally, but he can certainly learn silently.
Chasidim and anshei maaseh make a point of
collecting tzedakah while the congregation is praying so that, by the merit of
tzedakah, the prayers will be well received. Nevertheless, they should avoid
doing this at times which require intense concentration, for they create a
disturbance which disrupts concentration. They should not collect tzedakah
during chazaras hashatz or during the reading of the Torah, but rather
during the recitation of ashrei and uva lezion.