Chinuch For Proper Davening
By Rabbi Yeshaya Weber
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
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
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.
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."
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."
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
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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
what is the proper chinuch for genuine tífilla?
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.
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.
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!"
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!"
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?
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.
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.
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.
are some specific suggestions to get our children to daven with
concentration and feeling?
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.
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.
is all very logical and self-evident, for we certainly canít ask a child to do
something we ourselves donít do!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).