Latest update: June 20th, 2012
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.
Here are some practical suggestions:
Contact your local Bikur Cholim organization, and ask what you can do to assist hospitalized children in your community.
Include your children in deciding how do allocate your family’s tzedakah dollars. Seek their ideas. Set aside some tzedakah money and create a “board” comprised of your children, and have them vote on what chesed project they would like to fund.
Fathers, take your sons to prepare or deliver Tomchei Shabbos packages.
As noted above, don’t be disappointed if you do not see instant results. But hopefully, with the passage of time, your children will become more decent, considerate and sensitive human beings. Along with their spiritual growth comes appreciation for the daily gifts they may be taking for granted. And with that comes more meaningful tefillah.
When our two sons were younger, the three of us would go yearly to the Monsey Tomchei Shabbos distribution center a few days before Pesach to help prepare packages for the needy families in our community. One year, as we got into the car after three hours of physical labor in the Tomchei Shabbos warehouse, one of our sons – about 12 at the time – said that he felt that the minchah tefillah he davened that day “felt like a Yom Kippur davening.”
My son was stating that he felt extremely “connected” during that tefillah. Why? He may not have understood it himself but, in all likelihood, placing food staples in boxes for needy families allowed him to experience the spiritual feeling that comes with helping others – while also making him feel vulnerable. And vulnerability leads to enhanced tefillah.
On a communal level, children ought to be presented with opportunities to participate in charity projects that are child-centered, age-appropriate, and easily understood. There are those (especially boys) who take the attitude that these projects are at best a distraction from limudim. I beg to differ. In my opinion, these projects breed a sense of communal achrayus (responsibility), teach true ahavas Yisrael, and engage children spiritually.
In Yeshiva Darchei Noam, where I serve as menahel, we conducted a chesed drive each year – geared to engage our talmidim in this activity. Over the past six years, we sent 400 toys to the children of Gilo in Yerushalayim, built a playground for them, created a laptop lending library in partnership with the local Bikur Cholim for use by bedridden children, sent 150 Israeli terror victims on an all-expenses-paid Chol Hamoed Pesach trip, and distributed hundreds of $20 Toys “R” Us gift certificates to Tomchei Shabbos families to purchase afikomen gifts for their children. We also “adopted” a Gush Katif school, sending them money for school supplies, sports equipment and bicycles. In each of these projects, our talmidim wrote cards to the recipients of their gifts – and received many thank you cards from them in return.
These chesed projects exceeded all my expectations. My talmidim are very invested in them, and feel proud to have touched the lives of their brothers and sisters in so many different ways. Do my talmidim have an enhanced appreciation for their tefillah as a result of these projects?
I often daven that they do!
© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved.
Note: I recently released a 4-CD Parenting set, “What Matters Most II.” Disc #1 in that series is a one-hour CD titled, “Raising Respectful Children.” It discusses many of the topics mentioned in this column. E-mail email@example.com or call 845-352-7100 x 133 to order the set.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and menahel of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and program director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S. To review and download a free pre-publication copy of Rabbi Horowitz’s “Bright Beginnings Chumash Workbook,” please visit his website, www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 845-352-7100 x 133.Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
About the Author: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is director of The Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES, conducts child abuse prevention and parenting workshops internationally, and is the author of two books and has published the landmark children’s personal safety picture book “Let’s Stay Safe!,” the Yiddish edition “Zei Gezunt!,” and the Hebrew adaptation, “Mah She’batuach – Batuach!”
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