Skip to main content

Out of the Mouth of Babes

We had a young kollel couple with a two year old daughter over for brunch one Sunday.  The little girl was just starting to talk; so cute!  I told her father that I hope HaShem thinks of us as so cute when we try to daven.  He thought it was a great way to look at things (as, of course, did I).  I have comforted myself with that thought for years now.  I try my best to daven, but often think of that cute little two year old and how we are HaShem's children.  Something happened a few weeks ago that made me realize that I was not comforting myself, but rather was giving myself a comfortable rationalization to justify my stunted growth in davening.

What happened?  I was walking home from shul with a friend's 11 year old son.  He is an interesting young man, always asking penetrating questions (in all innocence).  For his (recent) 11th birthday, he had asked for a "Pathway to Prayer" for both weekday and shabbos.  "Pathway to Prayer" is a beautiful sefer that translates the shmone esrei prayer one line at a time.  Shmuly asked how best to use the translation; before or after the hebrew.  I told him that in my opinion it was best to look at the English first and then say the Hebrew text.  He said, "I thought about that, but then there are gaps in my praying; it isn't really like talking to HaShem anymore."  After a short pause (probably not noticed) I told him that he was right and that it would be much better to review the English before davening; then, while saying Shmone Esrei, he should just glance at the translations to jog his memory when necessary.

That pause (that I hope was not noticeable) was due to me hearing that an 11 year old was struggling with the same issues I was regarding how to daven properly.  The Shulchan Aruch, 98:1 says, "One who is davening should think about the meaning of the words that are coming out of his lips and should consider himself to be standing directly before the Divine Presence."  The halacha is also that one should dress and comport oneself all "as if" he had an appointment with an important person.  So while I like to think that I work to make my davening better and give it due importance; here is an 11 year old who is working on the same issues.  I can just picture my trial at the Bais Din shel Ma'ala:
Prosecuting Attorney: "So Dr. Allen" [dramatic pause to let sarcastic tone have its effect], "You claim to have worked oh so hard on your davening, yet an 11 year old is already contemplating the same issues that it took you 52 years to come to?"
Me: "Well... he was 11 and 1/2 at the time...." [voice trailing off as I realize how lame that sounds and really wish there was a hole to crawl into besides the one that leads all the way down]
When I first started learning I had the opportunity to listen to a series of taped lectures entitled "The 48 Ways to Wisdom" by R' Noach Weinberg, z"tzl.  While there were many important ideas I heard in his lectures, there was one statement that rings in my mind constantly (quoted to the best of my memory):
Imagine a very precocious five year old.  If that five year old is doing the same things at 10 as he did at five, it is not longer precocious -- its a tragedy.  And if a precocious 10 year old has not grown in character and intellect by the time he is 15, it is also a tragedy.  And if a 65 year old man is acting the same as he did at 60 -- if there has been no improvement in those five years -- it is no less a tragedy.
So now I worry that rather than looking like a cute little two year old when I daven, I look like a very delayed adolescent whose striving for improvement are bittersweet to his parents.  Sweet in that their beloved son is working so hard; bitter in that he has long ago fallen behind his peers.  I worry now that when I do finally look into the loving face of my Creator, I will certainly feel His love and enjoy the warmth of His embrace, but also sense the disappointment in knowing what I could have and should have become.  Baruch HaShem I am still in this world and have opportunities to improve.  B'ezras HaShem, I will actually utilize those opportunities with more honest effort going forward.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…