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Interactive Parenting Forum featuring
world renown Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

On Davening – Part Two

In the previous 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 pre-requisites for inspired tefilah – for adults – and some of the ramifications as they pertain to the chinuch of our children:

  • A rudimentary understanding of the Hebrew text of the davening, and preferably an appreciation for the context and deeper meaning in these tefilos.
  • A feeling of vulnerability or a void/need in our lives that we hope tefilos will fill.
  • A feeling of connection to Hashem and the faith that our tefilos are answered.
  • And, in the case of children; age-appropriate settings and expectations for tefilos.  

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

  • A feeling of vulnerability or a void/need in our lives that we hope tefilos will fill.

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

One of the challenges of raising our children in America – 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; what are our children missing, baruch Hashem? They are, for the most part, well fed, live in comfortable homes and play in safe neighborhoods.

I conduct parenting classes in varied and diverse communities, and usually get a pretty good handle on the challenges that people face by fielding questions in an open forum after the lecture component of the parenting 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 that I conducted in Eretz Yisroel over the past ten years. 

The lack of the language barrier in Eretz Yisroel is certainly a factor in more inspired tefilah, 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 the fact 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 for fear that they might be bombs, you tend to feel far more vulnerable. And vulnerability leads to far more concentration and focus on tefilah. (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 tefilah is this sense of vulnerability. Perhaps this is the reason that a preferred quality for b’alei tefilah on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (see Mishnah Berurah Hilchos Rosh Hashana, 581:1), is that the individual be above the age of thirty. 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 of this answer the questions posed by the two parents regarding the tefilah of their children? And, is there anything parents can do regarding this matter?

I guess my response would be that it is always important to understand the issues at hand – even if there is little that you can do in a practical sense. For along with knowledge comes awareness and the enhanced ability to problem-solve. In this instance, however, there is much that you can do to improve your child’s tefilah in a pragmatic manner.

Please note that 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.

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

Think of it this way. If you accept the notions that: 1) Vulnerability leads to inspired tefilah, and, 2) For the most part, our children don’t seem to be, baruch Hashem, neither vulnerable nor needy… It would be quite logical that engaging them in the process of assisting those in our community who are vulnerable and in need of help would help them to develop a moral compass and engage them in 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 tzedaka dollars. Ask them for their ideas, or if you wish to be more creative, set aside some tzedaka 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 the spiritual growth comes appreciation for the daily gifts they may be taking for granted – and with that comes more meaningful tefilah.

When my two sons were younger, the three of us would go to the Monsey Tomchei Shabbos distribution center a few days before Pesach each year to help prepare the 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, my eldest son, who was about twelve-years old at the time, remarked to me that he felt that the mincha tefilah he davened that day, (all the volunteers took a break from preparing the packages to daven mincha), “Felt like a Yom Kippur davening.”

My son was articulating that he felt extremely “connected” during that tefilah. Why? He may not have understand 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 – and also made him feel vulnerable. And vulnerability leads to enhanced tefilah.

On a communal level, I strongly feel that children ought to be presented with opportunities to participate in charity projects that are child-centered, age-appropriate, and where the children can easily understand the project. There are those who take the attitude, especially as far as boys are concerned, 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, teach true ahavas Yisroel, 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 the activity. Over the past six years, we sent 400 toys to the children of Gilo, Yerushalayim, during the first few weeks of the intefada, built a playground for the children of Gilo, created a laptop lending library in partnership with the local Bikur Cholim for the use of bedridden ill children, sent 150 Israeli terror victims on an all-expenses-paid Chol Hamoed Pesach trip, distributed hundreds of $20- Toys-R-Us gift certificates to Tomchei Shabbos families to purchase afikomen gifts for their children, and most recently, ‘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. (Here is a link to an article I wrote this summer re: the Gush Katif Project

These chesed projects exceeded all my expectations. My talmidim are very invested in them, and feel proud that they touched the lives of their brothers and sisters in so many different ways. Do my talmidim have an enhanced appreciation for their tefila as a result of these projects?

I often daven that they do.      

Best wishes for a Gutten Yom Tov. 

© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

FYI; 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,” and discusses many of the topics mentioned in this column. Click here to order the set.

Next week, the third and final segment on engaging your children in meaningful tef



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