In the first two Jewish Press columns in this series – published on June 15 and June 22, 2007 – we discussed, “Understanding Tefillos” and “Building Spirituality” in response to the questions posted by two parents asking how to better motivate their children (a 12-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy) to improve their davening. In this column, we will address the following issues:
· A feeling of connection to Hashem and the faith that our tefillos are answered; and
· Age-appropriate settings and expectations for tefillos.
In order to help your daughter regain her footing as far as her tefillah is concerned, you will need to gain a window into her soul. And that is much, much easier said than done. However, the most effective method to realizing this goal is to offer her a non-judgmental ear.
One of the most important lessons parents should keep in mind is that while we are so preoccupied thinking of what we should say to guide our children, the most important thing we can do is listen to them- really listen! That means having the type of relationship where children can discuss what is on their minds, without fear of being subjected to judgmental comments or negative attitudes. This applies to all arenas of children parenting, but all the more so in the arena of tefillah. This is so because tefillah is such a personal matter between an individual and his/her Creator.
Therefore I suggest that you open a dialogue with your daughter. Gently bring up the subject of tefillah with her when you are in a relaxed setting and a tranquil frame of mind. Tell her that you see that davening seems to be a challenge for her, and ask the type of questions that send a clear message that you are open to whatever she will tell you. Something like, “Is there anything you would like to talk about regarding your davening?” Or, “I see that your davening seems a bit strained lately. This seems to be a recent development. Is everything OK?” “Are you OK?”
There could be so many reasons for a child (or adult) to undergo a crisis of bitachon (faith), or develop a feeling that his/her tefillos go unanswered, chas v’shalom. But it is quite likely that your daughter is experiencing a challenge of sorts.
Part and parcel of proper tefillos, let alone inspired and meaningful ones, is to feel close to Hashem and to have bitachon that one’s prayers will be answered. When one or both of these components are lacking, it is quite understandable the result will be bland, uninspired tefillos or a complete disconnect from the tefillah process.
Where will the conversation lead? No one can predict the answer to that question.
Many years ago, when I served as an eighth-grade rebbi, a talmid of mine simply refused to daven. During the entire Shacharis prayer, he would sit silently wearing his tefillin – but not participating at all in the davening. This behavior was in stark contrast to his classroom attitude, where he was engaged and doing well in his limudim.After observing this behavior for a few weeks, I called him aside one day and gently explored with him the reasons for his disinterest in davening. At one point in the conversation, he was silent for a few moments. He then told me that a close relative of his was ill several months prior to our conversation, and that my talmid passionately davened for the full recovery of this individual – who subsequently died. Suddenly, the missing piece of the puzzle fell into place.
Parents ought not be concerned that they will be “stumped” by a difficult question posed by their children. We need not know the answers to these complex hashkafah questions. After all, our greatest talmidei chachamim and nevi’im (sages and prophets) grappled with how humans, with our limited understanding, can gain insight into Hashem’s world.
Your role as a parent is to allow these issues to be aired and discussed, and to guide your daughter to those who can help her find answers to her questions.
Two final notes on this: You may also want to compliment your daughter for her honesty. Others would have taken the path of least resistance and simply pretended to daven. And, Yocheved, you too deserve kudos for not being oblivious to your daughter’s lack of enthusiasm for davening, and for taking the time to explore solutions.
As for the father who wrote that his son “quickly gets bored after about 15 minutes of davening,” and that his wife keeps telling him to “lighten up” with their son and not subject him to such a long davening in shul -my advice is for you to tell your wife that I complimented you – for marrying a wise woman. Please do “lighten up” with him.
Twenty to thirty minutes is usually the amount of time your son spends davening each day in school. You will be well served to have him continue the routine of davening as recited in yeshiva – regardless of what the adults are davening in shul. Speak to your son’s rebbi if you need more details. After all, if your eight-year-old son is restless in a shul setting that is 2-3 hours long and geared to adults, that is a sure sign that he is a normal child. How long would you sit still while listening to people conversing in French all around you (assuming you didn’t speak the language)? I know there are “other kids” who sit nicely next to their fathers. Please look the other way, and don’t compare your son to them.
Here are some practical suggestions:
· Consider having your wife bring him to shul later in the morning.
· Bring along some books for him to read when he is done davening.
· It may be far wiser for you to bring him to Minchah instead of Shacharis. He will have the shul experience in a much shorter setting.
Best wishes for continued nachas.
© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved.
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