Prayer is an important avodah, replete with many halachos. Some of this are required, and without them we cannot pray. Others are ‘non-essential’, meaning that they are important, but one will fulfill their mitzvah to pray even if they are missing.
The Rambam, in Chapter 5 of Hilchos Tefillah, expounds on the non-essential components that comprise this second category:
- Standing during prayer
- Facing the Beis Hamikdash
- Correct positioning
- Appropriate attire
- Proper location
Within the laws of ‘correct positioning’ is the halachic requirement to stand with our feet together during prayer. What is the reason for this?
The classic reason is based on the gemara, which derives this requirement from Yechezkel’s prophecy, in which he shares a vision of the heavenly courts, describing the feet of the angels as:
“…veragleihem regel yesharah” – “…their feet were a straight foot”.
However, the question must still be asked, why should we emulate angels by standing with our feet together? Many answers have been offered to this questions, however we have identified two common approaches:
- The Levush suggests that standing with one’s feet together makes a person feel vulnerable and humble, and so allows a yid to fulfill his mitzvah of davening with awe and humility.
- The Rashba likens man to an angel, an emissary placed on earth to serve and recognise his Creator. In this sense, he is G-d’s messenger, just like a malach. Indeed, the Rashba notes that the word regel has a double meaning, as both “foot” and also “cause”, and so we can reinterpret the words above from Yechezkel as a requirement to direct our energies towards a single Cause, namely Hashem.
2. Recognising who is really in charge
As an alternative to the above, the Rashba suggests altogether different reason why we might stand with our feet together during prayer:
“[M]an’s body was created with limbs – his hands and legs – whose purpose is to enable him to reach and acquire what he wants and to distance himself from harm. The hands bring him items of pleasure, push away from him harmful items, and are what he uses against his enemy in warfare. His feet move him great distances in a very short time, and enable him to escape from harm.
It is essential to prayer that a person realise that none of these abilities are man’s own activities and they will not save him without G-d’s help. Everything is dependent on G-d’s will. In order to entrench the idea in one’s soul, one must place one’s feet together when praying, to symbolise that his feet are completely bound and paralysed. They are without any ability to flee from danger. This forces man to realise that all his abilities of locomotion are only because G-d helps him.
The same is true with one’s hands. The gemara teaches that in times of difficulty, Rava would fold his arms when he prayed…This position demonstrates that it is as if one’s arms are bound and one is without help except for Hashem.”
Taking these lessons back into the workplace
On any given day at work, it is easy for us to feel that we are in control, or at least to forget Who really is in control. Let us pick out some examples from a ‘typical’ day:
- Wake up late as the alarm clock didn’t go off – We blame the power cut during the night.
- The train arrives half an hour late, and then breaks down in the tunnel – We blame the poor service, we think about the money wasted on train fares.
- Receive a compliment from a colleague of a great piece of work – We pat ourselves on the back, thinking how good we are at our job.
- We juggle several bits of work with competing deadlines – We worry that we won’t be able to get it all done in time.
In each of these examples, both good and bad, there is a real risk that we attribute ‘everyday’ occurrences to ourselves and to others around us. Of course, our efforts are required, but there is a very different way to frame these same points:
- Wake up late as the alarm clock didn’t go off – This might be a test of our emunah. Do we get angry, and stomp around the house, blaming others for our late departure?
- The train arrives half an hour late, and then breaks down in the tunnel – This is a chance for us to reflect on why Hashem might have wanted us to be late for work. Perhaps it is for our own good? Or this is an opportunity to quickly jog our minds back to thinking of Hashem, a little reminder Who is running the world. We might take this opportunity to saying a quick tefillah to Hashem, just for ten seconds, and thank Him for watching over our day, and giving us what we need. We might also reflect on how best we use our time on the train: today we may have ‘wasted’ time because of a broken down train, but how efficiently to we use our time when things are running smoothly? Maybe we can dedicate 5 minutes of our journey to learning (see here for an excellent example of how this might be accomplished).
- Receive a compliment from a colleague of a great piece of work – We remember who is really responsible for our positive results, and say a quick thank you to Hashem to turning our efforts into a lasting output in the world.
- We juggle several bits of work with competing deadlines – Again, we might ask Hashem for help in juggling the workload, and for us to reach a positive resolution.
Together, we can take these lessons forward into the year: how to use our prayer to improve our work, and how we can work to improve our prayer.
 Some of this article is based on the writings of Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff shlita.
 Brachos, 10b
 Yechezkel, 1:7
 Levush, Orach Chayim, 95:1