On Succos, we gather our crops, reflect on our harvest. In life, we gather our experiences, appreciate what we’ve gained
It started subtly. I watched it unfold with a pit in my stomach. One of my children seemed to resent davening. Whenever he reached for the siddur on Shabbos, it was like watching my seven-year-old reaching for her homework assignment.
Then came the comments. “Davening is soooo boring” or “Uch, the chazzan went so slowly today.” The words stung. But perhaps, I tried to reassure myself, my son had more kavanah than the others and was frustrated at not being able to fully express the emotions within.
But then things got worse. His siddur was treated so roughly, I was afraid it would fly out of his hands. I tried to give him chizuk: “Yes, I know it’s hard, but davening is how we talk with Hashem. You can ask for anything you’d like!” My words were barely met with a nod.
I felt broken. Not having grown up in a frum home, I couldn’t sprinkle my divrei Torah with quotes from mefarshim, and I’ve never even opened half of the seforim my children learn in school. The one thing I felt I could offer my children frumkeit-wise was a close, personal relationship with G-d. I prided myself on my spirituality, imparted by my parents and grandparents; I could hold a conversation with Hashem as well as the best of ’em. So what was happening with my son?
Over the corona lockdown, I started reading biographies of great people. One that I found particularly poignant was the life story of Henny Machlis. One point that stuck: If one wishes to change a character trait in one’s children, she advised, one had to change it in oneself first.
After contemplating my child’s issue with tefillah, I realized, with shame, that I had a similar struggle. Though I could talk to G-d all day, as soon as I opened a siddur, my thoughts went elsewhere. I didn’t understand much of what I was saying, and didn’t internalize those words I understood. I just wanted the experience to be over with so I could speak in my own language.
I resolved to daven more slowly and even began singing some of the tunes in order to immerse myself more deeply in the tefillah. The first time I began my melodic rendition of “Mah Tovu,” one of my children said, “Mommy, you already davened with us.”
“I know,” I responded, “I’m singing for myself now.”
Slowly but steadily, I noticed my son connecting more and more with the words from the siddur. The complaints all but ceased, and, instead of watching him roll his eyes while davening, I even found him shuckeling a little.
Though my kavanah ebbs and flows and is by no means consistent, as soon as I find myself slipping, I think of my children and am driven to reconnect.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 712)
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