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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Tomchei Shabbos’

On Davening (Part II)

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

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.

Chanukah – Fighting Spiritual Cancer

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

        This past week I took time out from my daily activities to have a medical checkup – something I highly recommend. I know too many people who only go to a doctor when they don’t feel well, or if something seems out of sorts, but never when they actually feel fine, the excuse being that they don’t have time for a checkup, or can’t fit in a mammogram or a colonoscopy, or a blood test etc. into their busy schedules. They are overwhelmed at work, and their “free” time  is saturated with “must do” activities – their chesed project or babysitting grandchildren or taking elderly parents to their appointments. They just don’t have the time, they claim.

 

         The incredible irony here is that making time for medical tests may actually give them more time.

 

         I have friends whose lives were extended because they did go for their pap-smears, mammograms, blood pressure monitoring, and they did have that “little cough” checked, etc. They are alive and well. Tragically, I know others who ignored the tiny lump or bump or stomach ache – “it’s nothing, it will go away by itself” – and tragically weren’t around to dance at their children’s weddings.

 

         When I saw my doctor I asked him to look at a little bulge near the crease of my left arm. I really didn’t think it was anything serious- but wanted him to confirm that. And B”H he did: Just a fat pad under the surface of the skin – something quite common. I was, of course, relieved by his diagnosis (but also a bit annoyed since I weight lift on a regular basis – but I’m not complaining). At least it wasn’t something truly ominous. Like cancer. Which brings me to Chanukah.

 

         “Cancer and Chanukah,” you ask, “what’s the connection?” In both situations you have normal versus abnormal. When you look at the Chanukah story, it’s about “normal” Jews who, due to their exposure to a toxic spiritual environment became “abnormal Jews” – they assimilated and no longer behaved as Jews. Their spiritual DNA – their souls – became mutated.  And no content to live and let live, they tried to force their views on the still “normal” Torah Jews and have them become like them – abnormal entities no longer recognizable as Yidden.

 

         Such is the case with cancer. Cancer is not something you catch, like the measles or the flu, rather cancer used to be ordinary, regular cells, e.g. lung cells – that are altered due to toxins or pollution or genetics or viruses that attack its core – its DNA – and they no longer act like normal cells. These now-abnormal cells do not stay put but spread and take over the normal ones.

 

         To get rid of them, a surgeon will take a scalpel and cut them out. So too, Mattityahu, and his team of Maccabeen “surgeons” took up their swords and removed from their midst the spiritual tumor that threatened their existence.

 

         But as is the case in many situations where there is cancer, radiation is utilized to finish the job.

 

         So too the threat of the cancerous, assimilated Jews and their Greek supporters was removed by the radiation emanating from the Torah – in the form of the dazzling lights of the menorah that illuminated the Holy Temple for eight days.

 

         Sadly, in the 21st century, Jews of all backgrounds and hashkafas are threatened by both physical and spiritual malignancies brought on by exposure to a noxious cultural environment. It behooves us to do what we can to fortify ourselves from this life-threatening hazard.

 

         On the physical level, we must do what we can to strengthen ourselves. That means not smoking – ever; getting enough exercise and rest – as there are a lot of sleep-deprived children and adults out there who are at risk because of weakened immune systems or because they are not alert and paying attention; eating nutritious food – in normal amounts – not overindulging and definitely not starving oneself; getting timely check-ups and tests; reaching out to others who are professionally able to help you if you need help; in turn, helping others in a capacity you feel comfortable with – if it’s simply packaging food for Tomchei Shabbos or preparing a meal for a woman who has just given birth; and most importantly being vigilant and aware  of your physical and emotional needs and addressing them in a timely and appropriate manner.

 

         On a spiritual level, you can fortify yourself and your family against the cancer of assimilation by being connected to a community via a shul or chesed organizations; ensuring a Jewish education for your children and your neighbors’; filling your household with warmth and an unconditional love in which all family members – wife, husband, children – are included; letting your children see that you practice what you preach; and giving them a love of Yiddishkeit and such a strong sense of their rich culture that they will develop a strong immunity and resistance against an enticing but perilous environment outside your home.

 

         May the glowing lights of Chanukah radiate your lives with good health and good deeds. A freiliche Chanukah!

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/chanukah-fighting-spiritual-cancer/2006/12/13/

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