Proper Chinuch For Proper Davening
By Rabbi Yeshaya Weber

In continuation with last weekís topic, many parents have asked what they can do to get their children to daven properly from a siddur, word by word.

The role of chinuch in general is to instill the belief in the Creator of the world, belief in Divine providence, belief that Hashem loves us and takes care of us. As we shall see, chinuch for davening follows this principle.

A child can more successfully carry out a task when he isnít confused, when he knows exactly what he is supposed to do. So instead of telling a child, "clean up your room," which leaves him wondering what that includes and where he should begin, it is far better to break the task down and to tell him: make the bed, clear off the desk, vacuum the carpet.

As parents, itís convenient for us to educate our children to carry out defined tasks. This applies to daily matters and includes the fulfillment of mitzvos. It is easy to give a child a "job" to do called tífilla and to instruct him: take the siddur and daven; read the words as printed on the pages under the heading "Shacharis."

Itís much harder, however, to educate our children about the inner meaning of tífilla, which is to daven with the emotions of faith in and love of Hashem. This difficulty comes from the reality in which we live. We live and function in the world of action in which practicality is the main thing. Emotions have their place, but basically, what we want are results Ė "Look in the siddur and read word by word."

Thereís no question that itís very important that the child daven, and that he should do so from a siddur. But thereís another side to this: our personal satisfaction. It is pleasant for us, and even moving for us to hear the pure tífillos of young children, together with others or on their own. But these motivations are ours alone, and it doesnít speak to the childís heart. He is drawn to other things and here is where an interesting paradox in communication develops between the adult educator and the child who is being educated.

In contrast to the practical adult is the young child, who is pure tmimus (wholeheartedness) and who is drawn towards emotions and feelings. In every area of his life, this is the language which speaks to his heart and which he understands. Then along comes the adult who says: "Look inside your siddur and read!" Thatís dry; it lacks life and feeling. Is it surprising then that it is difficult for a child to do something which under the best of circumstances does not speak to his heart and in the worst of cases, is foreign to him?

Yes, we can find disciplined, obedient children by nature who go along with demands made by authority figures. If these children are also gifted with the power of concentration and they have no problems with focusing and vision, then all these factors put together will help them carry out the task that is expected of them.

But what about all those children, and they are more than we think, who have even one of the problems we mentioned above? These children will have a difficult time, some more and some less, in carrying out the task at hand, tífilla (actually, reading) from the siddur. Difficulties lead to frustration, which leads sooner or later to angry outbursts. Who will the children take out their frustrations and anger on if not the siddur or the teacher or the parent?

As far as the children are concerned, they are not directly to blame for their problem! In the worst situation children will vent their negative feelings on Judaism itself, for it is Judaism that demands that they daven.

As far as the first category of children, those who fulfill the expectations demanded of them and read nicely from the siddur, who can guarantee that this will continue with the same enthusiasm? To the best of their knowledge what is expected of them is merely action, i.e., proper reading from a siddur.

When a child is educated to tífilla in this way, the day may come when he will say to himself: I already know how to daven. I have proven myself by doing it enough times. We donít need to spell out what conclusion he might come to after this thought...

It is important to point out that actions of this sort, namely doing something with seemingly no elevated purpose, tire a child out. He cannot keep it up beyond a certain point. When a child feels that he has had enough and canít do anymore, he starts to rationalize and comes to the conclusion that he has already "fulfilled his obligation" of davening. He already does it quite well, and therefore, he may stop.

I recall an incident of a three-year-old who davened beautifully from a siddur with what seemed like great kavana. The people who davened in the shul looked at him fondly and with open admiration. The little boy became a role model with parents showing their children how one was to daven. Unfortunately, the show didnít go on forever. After a few years it was over. The boy stopped davening altogether. He felt that he was through with this now and he sought other, more interesting hobbies to impress people with.

Educators try various ways of preventing such an undesirable state of affairs. One way is to talk to the child about the meaning of tífilla, and its importance. Discussions such as these are very important and are extremely valuable, but most of the time their effectiveness is short lived. This is because it is difficult for the child to connect the discussion about tífilla to his actual davening. It is hard for him to keep on reminding himself of the conversation and to galvanize himself again and again to muster up the necessary energy for proper davening.

Another method is to "bribe" the child with candies and prizes. The effectiveness of this solution is also short lived. Additionally it causes the child to develop a great dependency on external motivations. Obviously this method does not educate the child to proper tífilla which is our long-range goal.

So what is the proper chinuch for genuine tífilla?

Every parent and educator must be aware that every Jewish child, by nature, loves to daven to Hashem, but he does it in his own way. A childís prayer and request is not made formally. Thereís no set time or text which he follows. A childís prayer comes from the depths of his soul and emotions.

Heaven forbid that we ruin this natural desire for prayer and tell them to pray only from the siddur. We must be doubly careful not to destroy their tmimus (wholeheartedness). We must guard this tmimus, develop it, and deepen it within the roots of emuna. We must be alerted to the danger that, without meaning to, and certainly without bad intentions, but simply from lack of awareness, we are liable to destroy it all with the wave of a hand.

How many times do we tell a child, "What? You finished davening already? So fast?! You couldnít have davened!" Then there are those who add, "You always do that Ė you always speed right through it. It doesnít seem like you ever daven." Or, "Youíre not looking inside your siddur at all! Youíre not davening!"

We arenít aware that our child, by nature, really loves to daven, and does so many times a day; with words and without words; when we hear him and donít realize what weíre hearing, and when we donít hear him. Perhaps intense focusing and concentration is difficult, making it hard for him to keep looking into his siddur and follow word by word. The child gets the message (rather quickly) that he doesnít like to daven. Put more strongly: His subconscious agrees with the message (which is so wrong!) the parent gives him and which he internalizes, that "I donít like to daven. After all, I donít read from the siddur!"

Letís ask ourselves: Would we make similar comments about emuna? Would we tell a child, "You donít believe in Hashem," or "Why is it so hard for you to love Hashem?" Or do we specify when exactly he should love Hashem, and how much throughout the day?

We must differentiate between the refined and pure soul powers, and the action that is done. Only after distinguishing between the two can we unite them properly. It might sound contradictory to the well-known rule of haímaaseh hu haíikar (the main thing is action), however, if we look more deeply into it weíll understand that this rule was not meant to take the neshama out of the deed and to make it merely mechanical. The rule derives from the halachic aspect of Yiddishkeit, which applies to the realm of action. But its application does not merely end there.

When talking about chinuch, the approach must be different. If we educate our children to action only, this is only a partial achievement. And the truth is itís almost worthless when considering the long-term objective. You just cannot educate with half-messages. You cannot say to a child, "Daven, say the words of the tífilla. It makes no difference what you think or believe." People actually say this, but it certainly isnít chinuch for genuine tífilla.

Our chinuch has to guide a child so that it brings him to a deep and ingrained perfection in the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos, so that he knows and understands and feels that he is doing the right thing for himself, and will be genuinely happy about it. Speaking of tífilla specifically, this would mean that he has the desire and love to daven. Letís not take the easy way out and educate a child to daven with our only goal that he utter the words as printed in a nice way.

What are some specific suggestions to get our children to daven with concentration and feeling?

A personal example is extremely important. The mechanech himself has to treat davening seriously, in a way that the child senses that his behavior is real with genuine emotion. When every move connected with tífilla is permeated with awe, the child will know that itís for real. For this reason, we Ė the educators Ė must show particular care in the way we daven, such as: being careful to daven within the appropriate time for tífilla; reading from the siddur word by word with total concentration; not letting anything distract us, such as the view out the window or an unrelated thought; certainly not acting out charades in the middle of our tífilla.

Care should also be shown in the details, such as the way we hold the siddur with respect; kiss the siddur with feeling; put the siddur down in a respectable place with the cover facing up; turn over a siddur thatís face down; pick up a fallen siddur and kiss it, etc.

This is all very logical and self-evident, for we certainly canít ask a child to do something we ourselves donít do!

Another point: Itís important that we show a child examples of genuine davening. This doesnít necessarily mean observing the davening of especially important people, people known for their great righteousness, but adults and children who are familiar in their daily life. When a child is impressed that his father, whom he looks up to, respects what is sacred, such as tífilla and brachos and anything holy, it makes him relate to what is sacred with similar feelings of respect. These feelings in a child are far more lofty than they are in an adult, as they are still pure.

I remember a story which I think the Rebbe Rayatz related in his fatherís name. The Rebbe Rashab once saw a painting whose theme was the miracle of krias Yam Suf. The picture showed the children near their parents with their faces turned towards their parents, while the parents faces were turned upwards. The Rebbe Rayatz explained that when children recognize that they are still children, and they look towards their parents and see that their parents also acknowledge their smallness and gaze upwards towards their Father in Heaven, then the children grow up properly.

The father is not the only one who must serve as an example, and tífilla from the siddur is not the only kind of tífilla we want to instill. When a child is exposed to a genuine tífilla experience through a heartfelt prayer from his mother or grandmother, or when a child witnesses a stranger crying at the Kosel or any holy place, the child learns what the real significance of prayer is. He learns that it doesnít just consist of reading words off a page, which has a beginning and an end. He understands that tífilla is a direct connection to our Creator, an ongoing relationship that never ends. During tífilla this connection expands, is strengthened, and is active.

Looked at in this way, tífilla is a never-ending pursuit. There are times that itís hidden within oneís heart and other times that it bursts forth. Not only that, but the merit of tífilla is eternal.

If only we, the parents and educators, knew how to present tífilla properly to our children, with all its depth and significance, our childrenís tífilla would be the way it should be.

Hereís food for thought: In my experience, those children who have a hard time davening, drag their feet with many preparations, and cause delays both before davening and in the middle of davening, are the ones more likely than others to experience davening with greater feeling.

 

G-d willing, we will conclude the topic of tífilla in the next segment of this series. Parents are invited to fax their questions (even anonymously) to 03-9607289 (Eretz Yisroel).

 

Authority Wrapped In Caring And Concern
By Rabbi Yeshaya Weber

As a follow-up to our first chinuch column by veteran educator, Rabbi Yeshaya Weber, Beis Moshiach presents the following article which focuses on the topic of educating todayís children, who lack the obedience of children of previous generations. * Rabbi Weber analyzes this subject and provides us with the proper approach
 

Question: One of the things we learned from the Rebbe MH"M is the importance of looking into the siddur when davening. The Rebbe would even say a bracha acharona from a siddur. How can we educate our children to do this, as well as other daily mitzvos, such as saying brachos before and after eating, washing hands properly, etc.?

Answer: In my response, I will focus on the topic of brachos, though the general approach can be applied to other areas as well.

Questions of this sort are usually mentioned in conjunction with complaints about chinuch in general and about the descent of the generations in particular. Most of the time a finger of blame is pointed at the educational institutions, which are said to be slacking off from their duties of instilling important values in the young children entrusted to them.

When children exhibit carelessness in basic and fundamental matters such as saying brachos and davening, the parents see this as a crack that stands to widen into a deep chasm in their childrenís yiras Shamayim and Yiddishkeit. They fear, perhaps justifiably so, for the future of their childrenís religiousness.

These fears are even more understandable when we learn about the chinuch of the Rebbeim. The Rebbeim stress the importance of being very particular with children from a young age regarding brachos and tífilla. All the more so, will parents feel pressured by their older childrenís carelessness to these and other holy matters.

Parents must understand that their criticism of the school system blind us and prevent us from seeing what our real goals are. We automatically find fault in others, for our human nature has endowed us with the ability to scrutinize everybody but ourselves. These negative feelings take root and unbeknownst to us, their effect is to remove all responsibility from ourselves. This is certainly not the best and most effective way to solve problems in education.

If we more carefully examine our educational methods, we are likely to discover that there are areas in which we are inconsistent. Generally speaking, we exhibit flexibility with our readiness to arrive at compromises. Most of the time we are smart enough and aware of the fact that we canít pull the rope too hard or it will break. When a child is stubborn about something, a clever parent will try to work around him and prevent a direct confrontation. Then there are matters that we find ourselves zealously fighting for, unwilling to concede an inch.

For example: when a child doesnít want to go to sleep at the time we established for him, many parents are willing to compromise on a later time. However, when the same child holds something dangerous, we forcibly grab it from him even if we have to wrest it out of his hand. This is because when something is very important to us, no matter the reason, we stick to our guns and donít take being understanding and thoughtful into consideration. We donít give in until we succeed.

In chinuch there are various ways of reacting, in accordance with the circumstances. In one case we compromise, in another we look away without reacting, and in certain compelling instances, we take an uncompromising stand.

The problem begins when we do not exhibit consistency in a specific area. For example, under ordinary circumstances we make sure our child bentches according to all the rules, but then under pressure of some sort, we look away and compromise and let things slide. This lack of consistency prevents a child from getting clear guidelines for the behavior that is expected of him. He gets the message that sometimes itís like this, but other times itís like that, and when there are certain compelling circumstances we can compromise.

If we, the educators, were sticklers for consistency, the child would get an unambiguous picture of what he needs to do and he would properly learn what is permissible and what is forbidden, what is possible and what is necessary, what is optional and what is obligatory.

One of the most crucial goals in chinuch is to establish "red lines." The way to do so is by clearly discerning between the two sides of the line and defining categorically what is on which side without straddling the fence and wavering between the sides. All religious-spiritual matters have to be clearly labeled: This is the way itís done, and thatís that!

If we were successful in conveying a clear and decisive message when it comes to religious-spiritual matters and communicating the sense that this is the most important subject in life and nothing else comes close, a child would internalize the importance of these spiritual values and would relate to them accordingly.

However, when we convey the message that there are other issues that we consider important in life, such as money, secular knowledge, or having a good time, and let the child know that these things are no less important to us than our spiritual values; and sometimes on the contrary Ė we strengthen the gashmi at the expense of the ruchni, even if unconsciously. Then, is it any wonder that the child doesnít get clear messages about the importance of religious conduct, and stick to them?

Our Rebbeim have taught us that the true chinuch, which instills Yiddishkeit in our children, is a chinuch without compromises. "Azoi, un nisht anderish" (this way, and no other way).

After understanding this message and internalizing it, the problem we have is not the principle, but the approach. The principle is: strictness without compromise. But that approach, which was effective in the past, doesnít work any longer, for it has lost its impact.

In the past, the authority that adults had over children, and that educators had over their students, was a given. This was the case not only for religious people and not only for Jews. Young people simply accepted adult authority. Even if they disliked or disagreed with something, they didnít dare open their mouths to express their opinion. This is why there was no need for means of persuasion when children were asked to do something; they just did it Ė no questions asked. If parents tried to explain their request so that children would more readily accept it, it hurt their standing in their childrenís eyes and lessened their authority.

The approach of strict authority is no longer functional in our times. Children today are exposed to media and other influences which encourage self-assertiveness, originality, and independence. The changes in the world, as well as the technological advances, are constant and ongoing, and the older generation for the most part canít keep up with it.

The young people, on the other hand, catch on quickly. Maybe it is the fact that there are areas in which they surpass their parents that gives them the illusion that they have the right to be independent in other spheres, too.

Therefore, these days it is important not to impose upon children strict, one-sided authority, because thatís a surefire recipe for rebellion in the near or distant future. The authority has to be wrapped in a mantle of caring and concern, with an attitude of respect for the child as a human being, valuing his talents and accepting his independence as long as it is expressed appropriately, showing a readiness to listen to him and his needs, along with taking a strong position on principles and values, and conveying that in these areas there are no compromises.

Some parents are not clear about understanding or caring, and they demonstrate it by shouting, which really comes from the desire to express their own concerns and let off steam. Conducting oneself in this way absolves the parents of their duty to protest but in no way absolves them of their obligation to educate. Even if their shouting is effective, the results are short-lived. True chinuch, on the other hand, is education with far-reaching ramifications, as Shlomo HaMelech said in the famous verse, "Educate a child according to his way Ė even when he gets older he will not veer from it." The goal in chinuch is "even when he gets older he will not veer from it," i.e., long-term results.

When a child returns home after a long day at school and suddenly begins to act disobediently, although he is accustomed to listening while in school, it should not be cause for concern. We have to understand that while in school the child does everything he is supposed to, since that is expected of him. But when the child returns home, he tries to relax and be himself. The way he does so is by disobeying orders and attempting to do as he pleases. Itís not because he disdains sacred Jewish values, but because he finds it hard to submit to its additional burdens of obligations and responsibilities. He knows whatís right and doesnít desire to rebel. All he wants is to relieve himself somewhat from the pressure. As he matures, he will develop, both physically and emotionally, and then, with G-dís help, he will be able to successfully take on everything demanded of him as a member of the Jewish body.

Nowadays we must be open-minded and examine every educational approach. Even if its source isnít ours, we have to verify whether we can adopt it to further our own chinuch goals, adapting it as necessary to suit our particular educational needs. It makes no difference what the approach is. The main thing is that it brings us towards our goal, which is educating our children to Torah and Jewish values.

When a child davens or says a bracha, he is doing what he should, and this is really what is important to us. We have to refrain from establishing how long a tífilla should take and checking to see how much attention he is giving to each word just in order to satisfy ourselves. We must permit his positive development at his rate of progress. With a little patience on our part and a lot of encouragement, we will succeed.

Encouragement is extremely important. We as parents often err when we convey our disappointment to our child when he does not live up to our expectations. The child concludes that even the little bit he does with great effort is worth nothing. If nobody appreciates it, what did he bother for? Obviously, this is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. Itís important that the child know that we appreciate every good thing he does, every mitzva; that every bracha he says is of inestimable value.

Nowadays itís important to emphasize the principle of consistency and commitment, specifically to small goals, which the child can easily accomplish. This way we donít set ourselves up for too many disappointments and we can offer encouragement and praise more often.

What about pointing out lapses? Is it proper to alert a child to the fact that he didnít say a bracha? Of course! Though it should be in the nature of a reminder like, "Oy, you didnít bentch, you must have forgotten!" One is allowed to forget, but bentching is a must. Or one can say, "Did you get permission to eat without a bracha?"

There are many parallels between mitzvos that pertain to oneís fellow Jew and mitzvos between man and G-d. Furthermore, the mitzva of loving your fellow Jew as yourself is a great Torah principle. Rashi explains that Hashem is also called "your fellow." Thus, just as we train a child to fulfill the mitzvos that pertain to man, we should also educate him to fulfill the mitzvos between man and G-d.

Just as we insist that our child fulfill the mitzvos that pertain to oneís fellow, we must be particular to fulfill these mitzvos ourselves, even when the "fellow" is our own child, whom we are liable to act towards in a superior manner.

A person in a distinguished rabbinical position once told me that when he was a bachur in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim, he had a yechidus with the Rebbe in which he complained that he often forgot to say a bracha before eating. The Rebbe said, "How is that possible?! It says, "You shall not steal!"

When we clarify for ourselves what our obligations are as Jews, and we have a clearly delineated path to follow based on Chassidus, then we can set down this path for our children. This approach will overtake them to such an extent that there will be no room for anything else other than the traditional path of Yiddishkeit and Chassidus.

Parents are invited to fax their questions (even anonymously) to 03-9607289 (Eretz Yisroel).
 
 

 

   

Children grow up properly when they recognize that they are still children, and they look towards their parents and see that their parents also acknowledge their smallness and gaze upwards towards their Father in Heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

He understands that tífilla is a direct connection to our Creator, an ongoing relationship that never ends.

 

 

 

 


YECHI ADONEINU MOREINU V'RABBEINU MELECH HA'MOSHIACH L'OLAM VA'ED!

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