“Hear, O Israel!”
Chief Private Eitan Biton was facing north, toward Jerusalem. The cusp of the Negev Desert sun, a blood orange rim, had only barely risen above the eastern horizon to his right. He was articulating each and every syllable of the ancient words of the morning prayers.
It was no use.
No matter how hard he tried, Eitan’s heart and body were not united. He was not at that elevated place of spiritual union that was required to truly fulfill his duty of prayer. His mind wandered perversely from the sublimely sacred to the sweat-soaked secular. The innocent, steamy dew of his distraction was barely five meters away from the armored vehicle atop which he stood.
Distraction’s name was Private Avigail Friedman.
From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz
Alaska. Siberia. The Negev.
Project Cronatos Hybamper, America’s most advanced spy satellite system, discovers extraordinary activity in remote parts of each of these three locations. The source of the three huge “Black Pearls” found in these places–and most especially what to do about them–is the narrative crux of the eponymous novel.
Russia, the United States, and Israel approach their Black Pearls in different ways.
This passage is part of a tiny little love story inserted into the novel. It keys off of the necessity in Jewish prayer of something called “kavanah,” or focused spiritual intention. Prayer cannot be effective if one simply utters the sounds without seriously intending a connection with that to which the prayer is directed.
But, if you’re a young man secretly in love, and the innocent object of your secret love is standing only a few meters away…kavanah might be hard to achieve.
Here is a basic description of kavanah from a website called Judaism 101:
Kavanah: The Mindset for Prayer
When you say the same prayers day after day, you might expect that the prayers would become routine and would begin to lose meaning. While this may be true for some people, this is not the intention of Jewish prayer. As I said at the beginning of this discussion, the most important part of prayer is the introspection it provides. Accordingly, the proper frame of mind is vital to prayer.
The mindset for prayer is referred to as kavanah, which is generally translated as “concentration” or “intent.” The minimum level of kavanah is an awareness that one is speaking to G-d and an intention to fulfill the obligation to pray. If you do not have this minimal level of kavanah, then you are not praying; you are merely reading. In addition, it is preferred that you have a mind free from other thoughts, that you know and understand what you are praying about and that you think about the meaning of the prayer.