Category Archives: davening

Staying in shul (and davening)

I have a found there a few factors involved when it comes to a getting a child to stay in shul and attempting to daven.  I am not a parenting, chinuch, or educational expert.  I am just a regular guy and these are my observations and what has, so far, worked for me.  Of course, if you child cannot behave in shul, then they really are too young to come to shul (regardless of age).  In no particular order the factors that I’ve observed are:

  • Seeing adults who take davening seriously:  This means no excessive talking and very little DADD (davening attention deficit disorder)
  • Understanding that coming to shul is a privilege:  It’s a special treat to get to come and daven to Hashem
  • Appreciating that shul is a mikdash me’at:  Instilling an idea of the kedushah of a shul is key (see this post)
  • Positive peer influence:  While we can offer direction, our children’s friends truly are influential
  • Having davening incentive programs in school:  A child needs to know that what he is doing is being observed and rewarded
  • Having slightly older role models:  Being able to look up to someone, even a grade older, can give a child someone to look up to
  • The candy man- As my son’s 4th grade rebbe told us a parent orientation, “You’d be amazed what your children will do for a gumball.”
Unless you started reading biographies of gedolim since infancy to your children, most of them are not so keen on staying in shul for all of davening.  I can’t blame them.  Most rabbis that I spoken with or parenting shiurim I’ve listened to suggest letting a child stay in for “as much as they can handle”.  My son has been going to shul on Shabbos morning with me since he was 3.  He has, for the most part, been sitting with me, davening what he is comfortable davening, and until he was 10, going to groups.

On Shabbos I daven in a very nice hashkama minyan that regularly has between 45-60 halachic adult males, of which 3 are between 13-17.  This minyan isn’t a heavily kid populated (mostly because it’s at 7:30), but the minyan is very kid friendly.  Currently including my son there are about 5 other boys in 4th-6th grade.  We have davened there for almost 6 years my son has always left the beis midrash right before haftorah and then, if I’m lucky, resurfaced by Adon Olam.  About 5 weeks ago I made the observation to him that of the 6 boys in 4th-6th grade, there are 3 that come back in for musaf.  I asked him if he’d be interested in coming in for musaf and staying until the end of davening for 3 weeks and as a reward we’d go out for pizza, just he and I.

He agreed and after the second week of going out for haftorah and then returning before Ashrei, he actually stayed in for the haftorah and didn’t even leave.  B’li ayin hora, he has been staying in and doesn’t seem to mind.  Now, my son and his father are far from perfect, but we are both aware of what’s expected of us.

Too cool for shul

This is legit.  Found here.

Come on, at one point we’re all too cool for shul.  I’m uber-guily of this, big time!
I use to like being a wandering Jew.  A weekday minyan nomad, traveling along in a Jack Keroauc-like way, never really staying anywhere too long.  Basing my destination on convenience and ease of parking.
I was wrong.  Part of my wandering was really just because I could wander.   After spending almost 8 years in a one shul city (we lived in Indianapolis from 1998-2006), moving to Chicago was, well like, shul overload.  Sort of like getting a shopping spree at Saint Mark’s Sounds (an excellent used cd store in NYC).  I am not, Chas v’Shalom, downplaying the importance, stability, or value of the “one shul town”, but it’s refreshing to have an option (at times).  Living in a city with one shul helps add a strength of community and lets you really get to know everyone, this cannot be understated (and I somewhat miss that).

So, parshas Bereishis, I found myself in the social hall/basement of Rav Moshe Weinberger’s shul, Congregation Aish Kodesh, during a moving an uplifting shalosh seudos (I’ve previous blogged about the first time I was there for the holy third meal of Shabbos here[insert link]).  I listened, as I heard a message that seemed tailor made for me (if you’ve heard R Weinberger in person, you often think that he’s speaking directly to you) about the importance of making an effort to daven in “our shul”, as he said.  He mentioned that he knows there are many faces that he and the shul only see on Shabbos Kodesh.  Not that people are not going to minyanim during the week, but it’s seems that they tend to davening elsewhere.  Rav Weinberger said that he understands that people have schedules and trains to catch, but if you can figure out a way to go a minyan that not an “18 minute shacharis”, it’s better.  He also said that when you make a commitment to daven in your shul you add to the kedusha of the shul.  This was a very powerful idea.

At that point, I decide, b’li neder, to stop being a wanderer.  I have successfully made it to my shul in the mornings (except when I’ve had carpool responsibilities) and so far, for mincha or maariv.  No more drifting upon the sea of shuls, I’m attempting to anchor myself, finally. 

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks on how to daven

On Wednesday, October 26th the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks spoke in Chicago at Congregation K.I.N.S.  A link to the audio and a transcript can be found here.

Here’s an amazing story he told over (from the transcript): 

I don’t know if you know this, the Rebbe before he became the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ran the publishing house of Chabad, Kehot. He always used to typography and use signals that would tell the apprentice how to make a change.  Somebody had written him a letter, “I need the Rebbe’s help. I’m depressed, I’m miserable, I find life has no meaning.  I pray and it doesn’t affect me, I do mitzvos and I don’t feel change – I need the Rebbe’s help.”   And the Rebbe gave him the most brilliant reply and he did not use a single word.  You know what he did?  He just ringed the first word in every sentence.  What was the first word?  I.  If all that matters to you is the “I,” you will never find happiness.  And that, I discovered, is the secret of Kohelet’s unhappiness.  Remember what he says?  Asiti, kaniti, baniti li, asafti li.  Everything – I built for myself, I bought for myself, I gathered for myself.  There is no book in the whole of Tanach which uses the first person singular that often.  And if you use the first person singular, if all that matters is I, you will never be happy.  And what happened in our generation?  I really intend no disrespect to the memory of a wonderful man, Steve Jobs.  He was a wonderful man.  Be we are the 1—generation.  We have the iPad, the iPhone, the iTunes, the iPlayer, ich veis nisht, everything is I I I.  No  wonder  we’re miserable.   And the result is that we have to use davening, to thank Gd for what we have and to be aware of something bigger than ourselves.

This hit me hard.  Just this morning during “Shema Koleinu” I know that I threw in some “I’s” like, “I want to be closer to you, Hashem.”  Instead I should have said, “Please Hashem, let me be closer to you.”

For a personal post from someone who attended the event, see this.

Mussaf davening on cruise-control

Text from here

On Shabbos, I will often catch davening on cruise-control when it comes to these words.  It’s a habit that started when I was twelve and I was preparing for my Bar Mitzvah.  In fact, I use to pride myself on being able to say all of “Yekam Purkon” in under 23 seconds from the bimah.  Sadly, my that I was “the big cheese” being able to memorize this paragraph, without even knowing what it meant in English. 

Like I said, even now, I will have to stop myself during musaf and consciously take time to read the Hebrew carefully and also translate the tefillos.  As I creep closer to Elul, I can feel both the excitement and the yirah (in a good way) that being on cruise-control just won’t cut it!

Rav Moshe Weinberger on davening and a relationship with Hashem

“If you don’t know about God, if you don’t care about God, if you don’t feel anything for God, so then the most uncomfortable place in the world to be is shul [synagogue].  Unless the guy next to you is interesting.  And that’s why you’ll find people who are normally very shy and reserved outside of shul and all of the sudden in shul it’s like Johnny Carson or Jay Leno.  He’s got so much to say and so much to talk about.  There’s an old song that I remember from one of my earlier gilgulim, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”.  You know that song?  Really the Rabbono Shel Olam is the one that we love.  People don’t know. They are not hearing about the Rabbono Shel Olam, they are not hearing what our bubbies and zaidies took for granted: a personal relationship that they. had and an ongoing dialogue with the Creator of the world.”

(I found this transcribed quote in a “posting ideas” folder. Sadly, I forget which shiur it was from.)
Sent via Blackberry by AT&T

Sunday’s Spark of Mussar

Rav Yisrael Lipkin of Salant

The door of the synagogue opened suddenly, and a man rushed in to hear Kedushah.  In his haste, he stepped on the shoes of one of the mispalelim and soiled it.
After Kedushah, R’ Yisrael called the man over to a corner and told him to apologize to the person on whose shoe he as stepped.  “True, hearing Kedushah is a great and precious mitzvah,” said R’ Yisrael.  “But the mitzvah gets ruined if it by doing it one harms another person.”

From Sparks of Mussar by R Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik

A letter to my Daughter

Dear [First Name] [Middle Name],

You are now past the middle part of your first grade year and just got your siddur. You came home from school so excited about your “siddur party” and were so proud of yourself.  Mommy and I are very proud, as well.  On Shabbos night we sat together on the sofa, while your older brother played with your younger sister.  I went to the bookshelf and brought down a siddur that belonged to my grandfather, your great-grandfather.  It was printed in 1857, so it’s 152 years old.  This is probably the oldest thing we have in our home.  It’s way older than, even, me!

We sat and opened up this very old siddur and I showed you that it was printed in a place called Vienna, Austria.  Vienna, interestingly enough is where Mommy’s dad, your Zaide a’h was from.  We looked at the tefillos and I showed you that the same things that you daven from your new siddur are also in this very old siddur…even Sh’ma!

I’ll give this letter to you when you are older and, hopefully, will appreciate the idea that are past, present, and future are all connected to davening to Hashem and when you open a siddur you are opening your heart!



As heard from Rabbi Heshy Kleinman

(Photo from
I was able to hear R Heshy Kleinman, author of the PRAYING WITH FIRE series, twice today.  Tonight he shared the following idea and story:
People often approach davening and the High Holidays and feel that they are not worthy of praying to Hashem.  They have made mistakes during their life or during the year.  They have done actions that have distanced themselves from their creator.  Let’s hear a story.
There was once a famous speaker who, before his offical speaking engagement would begin, would stand in front of his audience and hold up a $100 dollar bill.  He would then ask the crowd, “Who wants $100?”
Everyone would raise their hands and, of course, respond.  Then he would fold up the $100 bill and ask the same question.  Again, everyone in the crowd would respond in the positive.  Finally, he would take the $100 bill crumple it up, step on it and smash it.  The speaker would then, one last time, hold up this dirty $100 bill and ask, “Who wants $100”?  The entire audience would raise their hands.
You, see, no matter how used and abused a $100 bill is, it still never loses it’s value.  Each of us, explained Rabbi Kleinman, has an natural value.  We are each created in the image of Hashem and we each have a powerful connection and relationship with Hashem.  Our tefillos will always reach HaKodesh Baruch Hu, regardless of what we have done in our past.  Our value to Hashem can never diminish.

Connections and reality

First, this quote from the translation of Da Es Atzmecha by R Schwartz:

We identify with the material, and think we do Hashem a favor: “Thursday night I have a class I attend, and with that, I fulfill my responsibility to study Torah for the week.” This is the opposite of the reality. I have not met anyone who eats a piece of cake Thursday night and says, “I fulfilled my responsibility to eat for the week.” Why? Because he’s hungry! You don’t think about fulfilling your obligation. If the stomach is empty, you need to eat! If we would feel spiritual hunger the way we feel bodily hunger, we would solve the whole problem of life. The problem of life is the identification with the material. People think they have specific problems. One has this problem, another has a different problem. This is all true, but underlying it all is a root problem; namely, that we have the wrong sense of reality.

We’ve been dealing with DSL issues all week. I’ve been on the phone and off the phone for several hours all week. Tonight I was dealing with tech support for about an hour, just to get an internet connection so I could check email and, now, post. All this time and effort just to go online. As I reflect, it’s sort of silly. I did, however, recall the above quote that I read over Shavuos and realized that I am lacking in the efforts to maintain strong ‘connections’ in other areas of my life. For example, understanding Tefillah (prayer). While on hold, I decided that I can easily put as much effort into understanding Tefillah and having a stronger connection to Hashem, as I can to getting my DSL connection. We have several great seforim (books) on Tefillah.

I am not one to wave a flag and shout, “Hey! Look at me and what I’m doing!”, but I write this now only to make a concrete commitment to start spending at least an hour a week looking into what I’m actually saying when I daven (pray). In this way I hope to fullfill part of my obligation.