Selected teachings of the Baal Shem Tov on prayer, collected in
It is impossible to pray with kavannah (1) without strengthening, and so you must request help from G!d.
You should consider it good if G!d helps you to have complete kavannah for most or even half of the prayer; when you weaken and your devekut (2) fails, pray with whatever kavannah you can maintain until the end of Aleinu.
Sometimes you pray with katnut (3) and then in one instant the divine light of your soul shines out and you rise up towards heaven like climbing a ladder, as written, “Send forth Your light and Your truth; they will lead me; they will bring me to Your holy mountain, to Your dwelling-place” (4).
Sometimes you can only serve in katnut, so that you cannot enter the upper worlds at all. You should only consider that “the whole world is full of His glory” (5), and that G!d is close to you. In that moment you are like a child, and though you serve in katnut you serve with great dvekut.
Know too that sometimes there is katnut above in heaven, in the “Small Face” (6), and from its power katnut can turn to gadlut, just as by blowing on a single spark in a coal you can create a raging fire. But if you have not even the spark, you cannot blow it into a fire, so you must always cleave to G!d in your regular thoughts, or your soul will be smothered completely.
1) literally “intention, direction, focus,” it is what distuinguishes meaningful prayer from recitation.
2) literally “cleaving,” that is, to G!d
3) literally “smallness” : the everyday, limited state of mind that is absorbed in the self, as opposed to gadlut, “greatness,” which leaves the limited self behind and opens to the greater reality, a necessary step to apprehending divinity
4) Psalms 43:3
5) Isaiah 6:3
6) Zeir Anpin (Aramaic), the aspect of G!d that relates to the finite world, and flows from and back into Arich Anpin, divine infinity; G!d, too, has stages of katnut and gadlut — such is the process of creation or, more accurately, emanation
They say (and it’s true) that marriage is work, and if we understand our relationship with G!d as a marriage (as the Torah tells us it is), then it must be work too. Just as we can’t ignore our spouse until date night and then expect a romantic evening, we can’t put G!d out of our minds until we come to pray and expect a spiritual experience. The same way that romantic intimacy requires constant attention, prayer intimacy requires that we be constantly cleaving to G!d, however weak that cleaving might be a times as we go about our daily work. Then, when we do come to pray, that spark is waiting to be fanned by our combined breaths, and we may be surprised by how high it can burn.