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Two golden rules that will enable a child to daven with chayus: understanding that with t’filla he can speak directly to Hashem, and knowing the meaning of what he says. * Another chapter in the series on chinuch in the spirit of Chassidus, from a shiur given by Rabbi Nachman Yosef Twersky to men in Crown Heights.


Chazal say that there are three iniquities that a person is not saved from committing every day: iyun t’filla (in the negative sense it means looking to see if one is being answered), bittul Torah, and sinful thought.  These are things that need constant strengthening. Not for naught is t’filla referred to as “avodas ha’t’filla,” because every t’filla is an avoda.

When speaking about children and davening, it is not a special t’filla suitable for children that we’re talking about.  They daven the same t’fillos, but we need to know how to convey the inner experience to children and instill the importance and significance of t’filla.

R’ Chadakov, the Rebbe’s secretary, who was the director of Merkos L’Inyanei Chinuch, was an outstanding mechanech.  Over the years he received numerous instructions from the Rebbe and the Rebbe Rayatz.

(I remember that once R’ Chadakov gave a horaa to Yeshivas Oholei Torah but only few listened. As a member of the staff, I felt it was a good idea to do as he said because it was very likely a horaa from the Rebbe.  In the end, it indeed became clear that the instruction came directly from the Rebbe.)

One time, R’ Chadakov spoke with one of the teachers and explained what the responsibility of a school is, to teach children how to daven.

In general, in schools they first teach the letters, the alef-beis, then the vowels and then how to put words together.  Then the child is taught to read entire sentences.  At this point, instead of choosing just any sentences they pick excerpts from the siddur.  They accustom the child to correctly say more and more excerpts, but this itself is a problem – simply reciting the words ends up becoming davening.

R’ Chadakov said to the teacher: Indeed, it is very important that a child read the t’filla properly, but before teaching the child how to recite another paragraph of the t’filla you need to speak to him about the meaning of t’filla.  Take the opportunity and instill the idea that a Jew can stand before Hashem and pray, “Know before Whom you stand.”

In 5703, Merkos L’Inyanei Chinuch issued an instruction to teachers who were teaching a child to say paragraphs of the davening, to explain the paragraph and the meaning of the words, and only then to teach additional paragraphs of the davening.  Obviously, the idea behind this was not to just add more words, but to connect the child to the davening.


When a parent wants to teach his child to say Nishmas on Shabbos, it’s not enough to tell him that if he says it he will get points or the like (the point system, by the way, is very necessary and encourages a child to go to shul and daven).  He needs to sit down with the child and explain the sections in a way that speaks to him, for when the t’filla pertains to him, it’s another story.

I heard about a child who grew up in Beit Shemesh. He did well in all his learning, but when it came to learn Mishnayos and Gemara he had difficulty grasping the learning methodology.  The father hired a private tutor to help his son understand the style of learning but it did not help.  The best teachers were unsuccessful with him.

The child grew older and was twelve and a half.  All his classmates were learning Gemara and Rashi, Tosafos and mefarshim, but he wasn’t even able to learn Mishnayos! Of course, after such a long time and so much effort the boy was very disheartened.

One day, the child returned home and asked his mother: What are you doing for me so my brain changes? His mother said: When I light candles Erev Shabbos, I daven especially for you.  The child said: I have an idea! This week, when you daven for me, I will daven with you and I am sure that our joint prayer will be accepted by G-d.

The mother reacted positively to this idea.  “Let’s do that.  I’m sure it will help.” The child was very encouraged by this.  All week he rejoiced over having found a way to solve his problem. 

When it was time to light the candles, the child stood near his mother and they prayed and cried together and asked Hashem that he be successful in his learning.

The child went to his private tutor on Sunday and tried to learn Gemara and, amazingly, he understood it! The tutor was surprised and asked, “What happened?”

The child said, “I davened with my mother and the problem was solved.” Indeed, within a short time, the child was able to keep up with his peers.


Children have the greatest sincerity.  By their nature they connect to truth.  If a child is inspired about the power of prayer he is much more inspired than an adult and he is even successful in acting upon that inspiration.  He has powers that adults do not have.

I once met a teacher from Monsey who told me the following story:

In my class I had a boy of average ability.  Once a month the principal came to test the children, to ask questions, and have them read from the Gemara.

For some reason, this child displayed greater knowledge than the other children every time they were tested.  I wondered how he was able to answer the principal’s questions so well.

After a while, I noticed that every time, before the principal came into the room, the child took a worn-out note from his pocket, whispered something from it, and put it back.  I was very curious and one day I called the boy over during recess and asked him, “Can you show me the note in your pocket?”

At first he refused.  He was afraid I wouldn’t give it back to him.  After I promised to give it back, he showed it to me and I discovered, to my amazement, that before every test, he would say the Yehi Ratzon for success in learning that appears at the beginning of the Gemara.

It was his sincere prayer that helped him so much! We need to talk to children about emuna and about this simple sincerity, because every child has it within him. 

They tell the story of a Chassidic maggid who went to the town of Slonim in order to speak words of inspiration to the people there.  He spoke in one of the shuls about prayer and said, “You know what t’filla is? You are actually speaking to G-d Himself!”

In the audience was a simple man, a water carrier by profession, who was very taken by this.  Speaking to Hashem Himself?! I must ask the Rebbe whether this is true. 

He went to Rabbi Shmuel of Slonim and asked, “Rebbe, is it true that in davening we speak to Hashem Himself?”

When the Rebbe said yes, the water carrier went out and began to dance in the street, “I can speak to Hashem Himself!” he rejoiced.


In the history of the Chassidic movement there are many examples of Chassidim who went to see how other Chassidim prayed.  Just looking at someone who prays properly has a positive effect.

It is obvious that just like everything else in chinuch, in order to succeed in instilling feelings for t’filla in children, a role model is needed.  When a child sees his father davening slowly and with chayus, he understands that his father values t’filla and this has a lifelong effect on him.

One of the famous g’dolim, Rabbi Nosson Schapiro, author of Megale Amukos, lived in Cracow.  One day, he decided he had to leave the big city for a small town because people in Cracow constantly disturbed him with halachic questions and dinei Torah.  He had to deal with all those things instead of being able to focus on learning Torah and avoda.

It was at this time that a din Torah came to him which changed his mind.  A big talmid chacham in Cracow with a large family had opened a bakery.  He worked hard in his bakery and one day a rich man approached him and asked him what his weekly profit was.  He stated the amount and the rich man said: Give me the bakery and I will double the amount, so I will have the privilege of supporting your Torah study.

The talmid chacham agreed to the deal and they signed a Yissochor-Zevulun agreement.  A few months later, the talmid chacham went to the rich man and said he wanted to terminate the agreement.  “I want to go back to being a baker.”  The rich man was taken aback and vehemently rejected the idea.  “The agreement we signed must remain in force.”

When they could not arrive at an agreement, they went to the Megale Amukos for a din Torah.  The Megale Amukos heard both sides and then said to the baker, “You are a ben Torah and you need to continue learning.”

The man said, “Rebbi, when I was a baker, I would get up at midnight and go to the bakery.  I would take the flour and water and prepare dough for bread and I would pray to Hashem that I make a good dough.  Then I prayed that I shape the dough nicely.  When I put it in the oven I prayed that it bake well.  In the morning I asked Hashem to send me customers, and so on.  So I prayed and thanked Hashem constantly.  I spoke to Hashem all day long.  When I stopped working and went to the beis midrash I only spoke to Hashem when I davened.”

The Megale Amukos, astounded by what he had just heard, said, “If there are Jews like this in this city, then I want to remain in Cracow.”


In order for us to instill the importance of davening in our children we have to start with the concept of t’filla.  In the Gemara, t’filla is referred to as “service of the heart,” as it says, “and to serve Him with all your hearts” – “what is service of the heart? This is t’filla.”  So t’filla is not just the uttering of words but an activity which depends on our emotions.

There are mitzvos which have to do with our hands like taking the lulav and giving tz’daka, mitzvos that have to do with our mouth like eating matza and maror, and there are mitzvos which are expressed primarily in the heart like t’filla, which is a feeling of connection to Hashem.  We learn the concept of prayer from Chana’s prayer about which it says, “I poured out my soul before G-d.”

When you think about prayer it raises a question.  T’filla, on the surface, is a request for mercy.  Now if a person deserves what he is going to get, why should he pray for it? What is designated for him, he will receive regardless! And if it is not coming to him, how will prayer help?

So the concept of prayer goes beyond asking Hashem for our needs.  It contains a much deeper idea.  Prayer is the time for a person to connect to our Father in heaven.  Knowing that everything we have in life comes from Hashem should be expressed in our requests.  It is through a Jew asking Hashem to give him things that he creates a bond with Hashem and arouses a new desire by which he merits to receive abundance, even if he was not deserving of it.

This is also the reason that Chazal established that we pray three times a day.  T’filla is basically asking Hashem for our needs, so why did Chazal establish that we daven three times a day? Shouldn’t one time suffice?  We daven three times because t’filla is about connecting to Hashem and if we did not have three times a day to connect to Hashem, we would be immersed in our lives and forget about Him, G-d forbid.  The three designated times a day for prayer are for a person to get out of his self-immersion and connect to Hashem.

“A person should always be careful about Mincha, for Eliyahu was not answered except by the Mincha prayer.”  This is because Mincha is in the middle of the day when a person is occupied with making a living.  This is a time to disengage from the vanities of this world and reconnect to the One who created the world.

T’fillos were enacted to correspond to the set sacrifices that were brought in the Beis HaMikdash.  Shacharis corresponds to the morning tamid sacrifice and Mincha to the evening sacrifice, while Maariv corresponds to the innards which were on the altar all night.  Chassidus teaches that “korban” is kiruv, closeness with Hashem.  This is the significance of a korban and of t’filla, to get close.

T’filla is from the root, “naftulei Elokim niftalti” – which means connection like a “tzamid p’sil” (a tightly connected seal).  In the Mishna it talks about “ha’tofel kli cheres” – a person who connects pieces of pottery and makes a vessel out of them.  Chassidus explains that this is precisely what prayer is about.  A person is compared to broken pottery which needs to be made into a vessel for the dwelling of the Sh’china.

It is for this reason that it is called t’filla for if it was merely asking for our needs it could have been called techina or bakasha.  T’filla means it is not only a means to make our requests but a goal in and of itself.  T’filla is to connect, to cleave to Hashem.


According to this, t’filla pertains to every Jew whose neshama is connected to Hashem, especially children and simple Jews whose G-dly spark is more revealed.  We see this with people who are not capable of deep meditation, that they have an enthusiasm for prayer because it’s a “soul thing.”

There is a famous story about the Baal Shem Tov who saw in heaven that the prayer of a certain Jew was accomplishing wondrous things.  He decided to travel to see who this man was.  When he arrived at the house he asked the children where their father was.  They said, he is praying.  One hour, then two hours went by.  When the man returned home it was already late afternoon.

The man apologized for his long absence.  “I am an ignorant Jew,” he explained shamefacedly.  “I barely manage to say the words from the Siddur.  So I have no choice but to read a few pages every day so that over a month’s time I can finish the entire Siddur.  Then I start over again.”

“Maybe I can help you,” said the Baal Shem Tov.  He then proceeded to spend a long time showing the man how to use the Siddur.  He wrote on small pieces of paper, “Shacharis,” “Tachanun for Mondays and Thursdays,” “Mincha,” “Maariv,” “for Shabbos,” “for Rosh Chodesh,” and so on, and put the papers in the right places in the Siddur.

The man thanked the Baal Shem Tov who went on his way.  “Now I can start praying as a proper Jew,” said the man.

But not much time elapsed after the Baal Shem Tov left and the Siddur fell unexpectedly from the shelf, and all the markers fell out.  Determined not to lose the opportunity to pray properly, the man grabbed the Siddur and the pieces of paper and ran after the Baal Shem Tov.

Walking quickly, he noticed the Baal Shem Tov standing on the banks of a river.  There was no boat in sight and he saw how the Baal Shem Tov took a handkerchief out of his pocket and placed it on the water as though it was a raft and began crossing the river on it.

When the man reached the river he too took out a handkerchief and spread it out on the water and sat on it.  The Baal Shem Tov, seeing that the man was able to do this miraculous act in his utter simplicity and sincerity, told him that Hashem was more pleased with his prayers as they were said until then.

“You are better off davening the way you have davened until now.”

The power of t’filla is tremendous as it comes from a Jew’s sincerity.  Every Jew has this power, though children and simple people have this sincerity by their very nature.


Someone who is mekarev kids who went off the derech told me that one of the main reasons for their downfall is their disgust for t’filla.  He reads to them an excerpt from Kesser Shem Tov which usually has a positive effect on them.

This is excerpted from Toldos Yaakov Yosef: “I heard from my master that a person’s great humility causes him to be distant from serving Hashem, may He be blessed.  In his lowliness, he does not believe that a person, through his prayer and Torah study, is the reason for abundance in all the worlds and even the angels are nourished by his Torah and avoda.  For if he believed this, how he would serve Hashem with joy and awe from great abundance and would be careful with every letter and vowel to utter it properly.  And also to note what Dovid HaMelech a”h said, ‘if you shall lie among the shfatayim’ (which the Sages interpret in homiletic fashion as sefasayim – lips) that Hashem watches and focuses on a man’s lips to kiss him when he says words of Torah and t’filla.  If he paid attention to this, surely who is the man who would not be seized by trembling and fear, that the great, awesome King watches and focuses on the lips of lowly helpless man.”  The Baal Shem Tov then compares this to the humility of R’ Zecharia who caused the destruction of the Mikdash.

This excerpt is also brought in the maamer “Basi L’Gani 5720” where the Rebbe adds that, from the Baal Shem Tov saying that misplaced humility is like the humility of R’ Zecharia which caused the churban, we learn that when a person is free of that misplaced humility and knows how all his actions are meaningful, and therefore he serves Hashem with joy and gladness of heart in abundance, he builds the Beis HaMikdash!

When a person feels humble and lowly to be standing and speaking to Hashem, that is the beginning of his downfall.  For the truth is the opposite; the power of t’filla is enormous and every Jew has the ability to pray and to draw down kochos that are supernatural.  True, we are limited by nature, but by standing before Hashem, He gives us from His full, open, holy, and expansive hand.

I once heard about a Jew who lived near the stepfather of the king of Morocco and had a friendly relationship with him.  The king of Morocco would visit his stepfather now and then. The Jewish man asked his neighbor whether it would be possible for him to see the king the next time he visited. 

When the king arrived, the man said to him: I have a nice Jewish neighbor who wants to see you.  The king agreed to see him and the Jew came in and began to bless the king.

The king wanted to know about Jewish life and the man told the king about events in the Jewish lifecycle from birth, the bris mila, etc. until the wedding.  The king took a great interest in every detail. 

The Jew told him that when a Jewish boy becomes 13 he is considered an adult and he accepts the yoke of mitzvos.  A party is made and the boy is given gifts.  He mentioned that his own son would be celebrating his bar mitzva in a month.

The king liked the Jew and he said, “I would be pleased to give your son a gift in honor of his bar mitzva.” The king took out a large sum of money, equivalent to $50,000, and gave it as his bar mitzva gift.

The stunned man thanked the king and said: The amount I would get from the richest man would be $1000 and even that would be excessive.  So for the king to give such an amount?!

The king said: You are right but when a king gives a gift, it is a king’s gift.  A king gives on a grand scale.

Hashem gives and responds to our t’filla.  We just need to know to pray and ask.  It makes no difference what our standing is.


It says Leah’s eyes were reddened and Rashi says she cried over possibly falling into the hands of Eisav.  She knew that she was designated for Eisav as the oldest designated to the oldest, even though she wanted to marry Yaakov who was meant for Rochel.  She prayed and cried and in the merit of her prayer, her father Lavan tricked Yaakov and the night of the wedding he exchanged Rochel and Leah.  This came about through Leah’s t’filla and she became the mother of royalty and priests.

A person might wonder why ask for money and material things of Hashem? There is an interesting idea on the verse, “You are holy and Your name is awesome, and there is no G-d but You.” What connection is there between the beginning of the verse, “You are holy and Your name is awesome” and the end of the verse, “there is no G-d but You?”

The explanation is, a person wonders, how can I ask things of You when You are holy and awesome? In the same breath he is answered, “there is no G-d but You” – who else can you ask aside from Him? He is the only one and everything is His, and He provides everything.  A Jew says to Hashem, You must give because I have no one else to ask and therefore, we are not ashamed and we ask!

As Chabad Chassidim, we are aware that it is the study of Chassidus, the knowledge of G-dliness and meditating upon G-d’s greatness, that makes our davening altogether different.  There is a Chassidic saying from one of the students of the Maggid that explains the verse, “whose name is certain,” – for one to whom G-dliness is clear and fixed in his heart, “so is His praise,” – so too, his t’filla.  The more the knowledge of “there is nothing but Him” is fixed in his heart, the more powerful the t’filla, because he knows that only G-d helps him.

The Tzemach Tzedek once asked his attendant for a cup of water before davening and the attendant mistakenly served him a cup containing 96% alcohol.  The Tzemach Tzedek drank the cup and after the davening he asked the attendant, who still had not realized what he did, “Do you know what you gave me to drink before the davening? 96%! But this t’filla was much better, with chayus and warmth.  There was only one disadvantage; it wore off in the middle of the davening, while the learning of Chassidus lasts the entire davening.”

We need to explain to a child what he can accomplish, and that he should ask Hashem for everything he needs, and He listens to everything we ask, all the t’fillos.  The truth is that a child can accomplish far more than us and Hashem gives him what he wants.

May we succeed in instilling enthusiasm in our children for a Chassidishe davening with simcha, and merit all the brachos.

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