Proper Chinuch For Proper Davening
By Rabbi Yeshaya Weber

Why be concerned about a child who davens fluently? * How can we direct children toward a deeper appreciation of davening? * The final article in the series about educating children to daven.

In the previous article we described the child who has difficulty davening from a siddur as a child who thirsts for feeling and excitement in general, and in t’filla in particular. By saying this, we are not merely trying to present a positive outlook to a negative situation; the fact is that such a child sincerely yearns for spirituality, and that is why it is hard for him to daven by rote.

There’s a strong parallel between a child who davens and simple Jews. In the Rebbe Rayatz’s memoirs, we find several stories about simple Jews who said Tehillim simply and wholeheartedly, but with great difficulty. These people did not know how to speak or learn in Lashon HaKodesh; they certainly didn’t have an easy time reading the language of Tanach.

For this reason, when they read Tehillim they would often read incorrectly, mixing up the letters and distorting the meaning of what they were saying, without even realizing it. It is regarding people such as these that the verse "v’dilugo alai ahava" (his omission is beloved to Me) applies. "The omission of these people," says Hashem, as quoted in the Midrash, "is beloved to Me." Even if they read the word ‘v’ahavta (and you shall love) as ‘v’oyavta (and you shall hate), since it comes from simple and wholehearted people, it is beloved to Me, says Hashem.

These simple people knew how to daven! The secret of t’filla was revealed to them, due to their thirst to approach G-d. Their yearning to bond with G-d was so strong that no obstacle could stand in the way of their desire and block the channels they had opened towards G-d.

When a person desires a connection with Hashem with all his heart, and he creates this connection, he is guaranteed that it will be a reciprocal relationship. Hashem accepts every prayer and request, and it makes no difference how it is expressed and with which words it is articulated. Hashem discerns the whispers of the heart and knows what a person needs and what he means when he prays.

Children who have a hard time davening, for whatever reason, can be defined as anashim p’shutim. Why don’t we use the Baal Shem Tov’s approach towards simple Jews, whom he considered so precious, and apply it towards our children? Since our subject is t’filla, how about inspiring them to t’filla at their own pace, in their own way? Lack of focus, lack of concentration, problems listening – all these difficulties, with all the professional evaluations behind them, are nothing in comparison to these children’s warm Jewish emotions.

In contrast to these children whose chinuch should focus on the emotions rather than on the technical details of davening, are those children with whom we are generally satisfied. This second category of children consists of those who learn well, read fluently, can concentrate, and who acquire skills quickly. They don’t have to break their teeth in order to get a task done. Their davening is clear and articulate. Does this mean we can relax because their davening is perfect? Can we leave them alone when it comes to t’filla because they’ve mastered it? Obviously not! We must continue to keep after them and follow their progress in t’filla. It’s vital that we direct them toward a deeper appreciation of davening.

How is this done?

We have to open a dialogue, not necessarily within the formal learning framework. The teacher can do this even during recess, while on a trip, or just "by the way" during a free moment. So too, the parent, during moments of closeness with a child, should ask whether there was a particular paragraph he thought about more today during davening, what paragraph was it, and what led him to give it more attention? Was it because of something that happened? Did a particular word stand out for him?

Conversations like these can begin at ages 8-9, and they enable a child to sense the inner flavor of davening and to feel and understand it in a deeper way.

On a practical level: In order to familiarize a child with the language of the siddur, he must learn the meaning of the words and understand the structure of the sentences and their significance. He must be stimulated to ask questions, and needs to be told when and why to stand, and why he may not talk during davening. This has to be done wisely, not in a dry and boring manner, but with stories from daily life which will enable a child to understand on an emotional level what we want him to adopt in practice. This way it will be internalized better and more deeply.

Chinuch for t’filla and the laws of t’filla are intertwined. When a child internalizes the content and significance of t’filla, he will understand why the halacha says to stand, and why it is forbidden to talk. He will act in accordance with halacha not because he is forced to, but because he has an appreciation and awe of davening. He will sense the holiness of t’filla.

The Rebbe pointed out many times and stressed that it is important to publicize events that depict the conduct of the Rebbe Rayatz as a young boy, and the type of chinuch he received. This is so we will learn how to educate. One can ask: How will this inspire us to want to behave like the Rebbeim and to even anticipate similar results? Do we think we are on the same holy level as the Rebbeim? Obviously, that isn’t true!

The point is that even if we aren’t on that level, when it comes to chinuch, we must strive ever higher. The directive tells us to try this approach in chinuch. We are guaranteed success, each according to his level and effort, with the ko’ach of the Rebbeim.

I remember a farbrengen from my younger years in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Montreal, in which they told of the difficulties in chinuch in Soviet Russia. The avreichim farbrenged amongst themselves and shared what was on their minds. One said: "How can I educate my children in a way that requires them to be on a higher level? I’d be a fraud, because I know the truth of who and what I am."

His friend replied: "You are who you are, but you still have to talk differently to your children. You must educate them properly without thinking of your own situation. In the future, your children will bring you back in teshuva!"

To conclude, t’filla has a soul which we mustn’t ignore or forget. One can implant the soul of t’filla within every single child and develop it. Reading from a siddur is the practical action making t’filla complete, and according to halacha, it is of primary importance, since we live in the world of action.

Parents can fax their questions to (Eretz Yisroel) 03-960-7289



This child must be stimulated to ask questions, and needs to be told when and why to stand, and why he may not talk during davening.



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