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October 7, 2015 / 24 Tishri, 5776
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On Davening (Part II)

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In last week’s column, two parents asked how to better motivate their children (a 12-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy) to improve their davening. In the response, we discussed four prerequisites for inspired tefillah – for adults – and some of the ramifications as they pertain to the chinuch of our children. They are:

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

Last week, we dealt with the first of the tefillah components. In this column, we will address the second one:

A Feeling Of Vulnerability Or A Void/Need In

Our Lives That We Hope Tefillos Will Fill

Every challenge we face contains an opportunity for growth, and every blessing comes with inevitable challenges.

One of the challenges with raising our children in the United States – in the security, comfort and relative affluence that our ancestors only dreamed about – is that they rarely feel a compelling need to daven for anything. Let’s face it – our children are, for the most part, well fed, live in comfortable homes and play in safe neighborhoods.

While conducting parenting classes in diverse communities, I usually get a pretty good handle on the challenges people face by fielding questions in an open forum after the lecture component of the classes. One of the more common questions that parents in North America ask is, “How do I get my kids – usually my sons – to daven better?” I was never posed such a question in the more than 25 parenting classes I conducted in Eretz Yisrael over the past 10 years.

The lack of the language barrier in Eretz Yisrael is certainly a factor in more inspired tefillah, as children and adults understand the Hebrew words they are davening (see last week’s column for more on this subject). A greater reason, however, may be that life is more “real” there. When you are trained at a very young age (as Israeli children are) to be vigilant 24/7 for suspicious-looking packages that might contain bombs, you tend to feel far more vulnerable. And vulnerability leads to far more concentration and focus on tefillah. (Just think of the expression, “There are no atheists in a foxhole.”)

Our chazal (sages), in their timeless wisdom, understood that a central component in inspired tefillah is this sense of vulnerability. Perhaps this is the reason that a preferred quality for ba’alei tefillah on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (see Mishnah Berurah, Hilchos Rosh Hashanah 581:1) is that the individual be above the age of 30. It is at that point in life that people begin to feel vulnerable, as their children reach pre-adolescence and they become more aware of their mortality.

How does all this answer the questions posed by the two parents regarding their children’s tefillah? Is there anything parents can do regarding this matter?

My response would be that it is always important to understand the issues at hand, even if there is little you can do in a practical sense. For along with knowledge comes awareness, and the enhanced ability to solve problems. In this instance, however, there is much you can do pragmatically to improve your child’s tefillah.

These suggestions are not “quick fixes,” and you should not expect to see instant results. But then again, all forms of sustained personal growth are incremental in nature.

In the long term, one of the most effective things parents can do to engage their children in meaningful tefillah is to involve them in hands-on chesed activities.

Think of it this way. If you accept the notions that vulnerability leads to inspired tefillah and that, for the most part, our children don’t seem to be, Baruch Hashem, vulnerable or needy, it would be quite logical that engaging them in helping those in our community who require assistance would aid our children in developing a moral compass. This emphasis on chesed would further their spiritual pursuits.

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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