והנה כל כוונתו
From today’s daily Tanya (Likutei Amarim, Chapter 41)
Now, all one’s intent in the surrender of his soul to G‑d through Torah and prayer, to elevate the spark of G‑dliness therein to its source, should be solely for the purpose of causing Him gratification, like the joy of a king when his only son returns to him, after having been released from captivity or imprisonment….
In Perek Gimel of the Simlah Chadashah, an authoritative sefer on the laws of Schitah, the Mechaber brings that based on the pasuk “and thou shall slaughter the cattle” that the shochet must have kavana while slaughtering the animal.
When I was learning Shchitah, we were taught that the Simlah Chadashah was truly requiring us to be present and that the use of the word kavana did not, in this case, have deep kabbalistic meaning but rather meant simply to be there, to be wholly focused on what you were doing.
In certain halachot within Schitah there are times that, because of the nuance and potential subtlety of the action, only the shochet would know if he had committed an issur- and, as a result, created a nevelah. Once a bird is considered a nevelah, it is not kosher and cannot be eaten. In the time of the temple that bird would no longer be able to be used as a korban.
In the source above, the Baal HaTanya says that we must have kavana when we are learning and praying. When we take the additional interpretation of kavana from the Simlah, we can say that we must be present, we must be focused, and we must know and be operating with intention in order to truly be doing.
If prayer and learning have replaced the korbanot in the Temple for the time being, we must understand that there is nuance and subtlety, like in shchitah, and as our prayer and learning can be accepted as a korban, it might also be possible to make them a neveilah.
The Alter Rebbe makes it clear that the purpose of our avoda, actions, religious or otherwise should be to connect to HaShem and bring Him joy. Like a shochet, there are things that only we can know in our hearts, there is nuance in our service to HaShem. When we pray, when we learn, the goal is to connect. If we are not focused and we lose sight of the goal we could, G-d forbid, “let something slide”, let a prayer go by that was mumbled through, maybe do something that is issur that “only you will know about”. When in fact, that issur creates a neveilah of our service.
Each one of us has to have the integrity to stop for a moment and check in. Are we present? Are we focusing on the task or the mitzvah that HaShem has put before us in order to connect to him?
A shochet could shecht hundreds of animals and it could be that none are Kosher, or acceptable as a korban but, because of the subtlety, it’s possible that only he would know.
We could pray a million prayers, learn a million hours, keep the strictest kashrut and it’s possible that none of it could be kosher or acceptable as a korban- but only we could know.
I bless us each in those moments that “only we can know” that we are more strict, more exacting and more dedicated to a level of kavana that will connect us to HaShem and cause our actions to bring pleasure to the King.