Question:I am very bothered by the comments of the great Rabbanim that they didn't daven if there was fish in the house, if they smelled beer if they were on a journey for three days after.
(a) First of all if the gemara says they didn't say tefilah, so that answers
the question whether or not they davened tefila. These were
great Rabbanim that had great concentration, how were they so easily
distracted. Is this perhaps a guzma just to point out the importance of
Kavana in tefila? I hope you can enlighten me with some insights.
(b) Also was it onlt shmoneh esrai they withheld. Did they put on tefilin
and say krias shma at these times.
I look forward to your response. thank you
(a) The basic answer to your question is that the Amora'im had such profound and sensitive Kavanah when they Davened, that even the slightest distraction affected their Kavanah. (The distraction which the Gemara speaks of is one of the olfactory senses; the Gemara (Berachos 43b) says that the sense of smell is the one which the Neshamah is most sensitive to.)
In addition, when the Gemara says that Shmuel and Rav Papa did not Daven in a house which had a strong smell of fish or beer, it does not mean that they did not Daven at all; rather, they left the house and Davened elsewhere with Kavanah. (See the RAMBAM in Hilchos Tefilah 4:9 who writes that the Gemara is referring to spoiled, putrid fish, the smell of which is so bad that the Halachah equates it with the smell of bodily waste, regarding which the Gemara in Berachos clearly states it is forbidden to Daven near such a smell.)
Concerning Rav Elazar and Avuha d'Shmuel, who said that one who arrives home after traveling may not Daven for three days, the Rambam (Hilchos Tefilah 4:15) writes that the reason is because one who Davens without Kavanah (in Birkas Avos; see Rabeinu Chaim ha'Levi there) is not Yotzei and must Daven again. Therefore, if one is tired from traveling he should wait (even a number of days) until he has the strength to Daven with Kavanah. The KESEF MISHNAH there points out that it is evident from the fact that the Gemara mentions that Avuha d'Shmuel did not Daven for three days after traveling, because only he, who was particularly sensitive to become weakened by traveling, must wait that long. Every person must judge for himself when he is able to Daven after traveling.
[We know that traveling in those days was not only very dangerous, but very stressful as well. Their journeys were much longer (in terms of time) than any of ours, as they would travel for months at a time (whereas our longest journeys usually take no more than a day). Few people were able to travel on a ship without becoming sick to their stomachs, which might take several days to get over. Long rides on donkeys, camels, or in horse-drawn wagons over unpaved roads probably had the same effect.]
The SHULCHAN ARUCH (OC 98:2) cites the Halachos you questioned, and writes that "now we are not careful to observe all of these because we, anyway, do not have proper Kavanah when we Daven." That is, one's lack of Kavanah is relative to the Kavanah which he normally has. Therefore, the detractions to Kavanah mentioned in the Gemara may have applied only to the Amora'im who had such great Kavanah (as we mentioned above).
(b) Regarding Keri'as Shema, which is a Mitzvas Aseh mid'Oraisa, one is certainly Chayav even if he cannot concentrate properly (see Berachos 15a). (Although if he knows that he did not have Kavanah even to understand the meanings of the words of the first verse, he must recite Shema again.) Same for Tefillin.