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December 1, 2015 / 19 Kislev, 5776
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On Davening (Part I)

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Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

My 12-year-old daughter is, B”H, a well-rounded, hardworking Bais Yaakov girl. She takes her schoolwork seriously and has a nice circle of friends.

Recently, I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend. On Shabbos and Sunday morning, when she does not have school, she has begun to sleep in unusually late and often does not daven Shacharis. Even when she wakes up with enough time to daven, she seems to be procrastinating and looking for excuses to avoid having time to daven. This is particularly disturbing to me as her mother, due to the fact that I’ve always made a great effort to daven every day – despite the challenges it entails.

How do I get my daughter to appreciate the chashivus and beauty of tefillah without making her feel that yiddishkeit is a burden?


* * *

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

My eight-year-old son comes to shul with me Shabbos mornings. I enjoy walking to shul with him, and we both like spending the time together. However, he quickly gets bored after about 15 minutes of davening. What can I do to motivate him to daven better?

My wife keeps telling me to “lighten up” with him, and not subject him to such a long davening in shul. I keep telling her that I went to shul when I was his age.

We would appreciate your hadrachah (guidance) with this issue.


Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Yocheved, Nachum:

I guess that an effective method for addressing your questions would be to analyze the factors and conditions that are conducive to creating the environment for sincere tefillah – in adults! If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that it is my strong feeling that many of the issues that we deal with in raising children are, in fact, issues that we as adults are struggling with.

Once we have a better understanding of these factors and conditions, it will be easier to reflect on your child’s unique situation as it pertains to his/her davening. You will then be in a better position to develop an action plan to help with that process.

I would suggest that among the many possible prerequisites for inspired tefillah, four important ones would be:

1) A rudimentary understanding of the Hebrew text of the davening and, preferably, an appreciation for the context and deeper meaning in these tefillos.

2) A feeling of vulnerability or a void/need in our lives that we hope tefillos will fill.

3) A feeling of connection to Hashem, and the faith that our tefillos are answered.

4) In the case of children, age-appropriate settings and expectations for tefillos are in order.

A careful reading of these factors will reveal that if any of these are lacking, it is entirely possible that the result will be rote, uninspired tefillos or, worse yet, a complete lack of participation in tefillah. Please permit me to expand on each of these items – with some suggestions for remediation in areas that may be lacking.

Understanding Our Tefillos

When parents would solicit Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky, zt”l, for advice on how to inspire their children to daven properly, he was known to ask them if their children understood what they were reading. When you think about it, it is a rather logical question. After all, imagine if we were asked to recite Latin poetry (lehavdil) with emotion and passion – while not understanding what we were reading!

If you find that your child is lacking an understanding of the basic tefillos (and perhaps this is an area where you are also in need of assistance), perhaps consider exploring the meaning of davening during your Shabbos meals. You may also think about approaching the rav or president of your shul to discuss the possibility of introducing shiurim on tefillah in your shul.

Another way to go would be to purchase some of the superb English-translation siddurim – including the recently released “trans-linear” ones. They are powerful tools in our efforts to increase appreciation for our tefillos. And please do not get hung up about what “others” or your children will think about your need for assistance in gaining a better understanding of davening at this stage in your life. It is a wonderful and powerful statement that you take davening seriously when you invest time, money and effort in personal and spiritual growth. Our children watch us very carefully, and they will be picking up an invaluable chinuch lesson from you when they see that you are willing to face your shortcomings and have the courage to self-assess and shteig (grow spiritually) – even years or decades after you left yeshiva or Bais Yaakov.

For younger children, there is a series of sequential workbooks on tefillah, by Rabbi Mayer Bernbaum, that introduces children to birchas hashachar (the morning blessings), shema and shemoneh esrei. They are, in all likelihood, available at your local Judaica bookstore, from Rabbi Bernbaum (973-778-8536), through the Torah Umesorah Publication office (718-259-1223) or via e-mail at mail@tupublications.com.

In the next column, we will explore other significant tefillah components and practical tips for engaging your children in meaningful davening.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved.

About the Author: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and founder and director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S.

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