learning about tzedakah. (UJC)
Children And Prayer
Introducing young children to prayer during the High Holidays.
Lyndall Miller, ACAJE Early Childhood Consultant
Can young children pray?
To answer this question, we must first think about what it means to
pray. Many authorities define praying as a reaching out beyond the self, a conversation with God. To keep up their end of the conversation, adults are expected to offer praise and thanks for what God has done for them, make requests, or confessions of shortcomings.
The Hebrew word l'hitpalel meaning "to pray" is
reflexive implying that prayer involves self-examination. In other
words, what we tell God is based on what we understand about ourselves.
Again, what about the young child? He or she may not be able to achieve
— never mind articulate — an awareness of the self yet, so how can we ask them to pray? With that young child, we can start with God's side of the conversation. As we teach them about what God has done for all people and for
Klal Yisrael (the community of Israel), how God is always there when we need a friend, and how wonderful it feels to sing about God with our families and friends, we are establishing a
reason to pray that can last a lifetime.
We have the inspiring task of helping God talk to the children, so that they will want to initiate their own conversations.
Young children who are five years old and under are uniquely equipped to listen. Partly because the bounds of the self are not so firmly set, they can travel out to meet God with an ease which we could envy. They understand with their intuitions, not just with their analytical thinking
— they do not stop to filter everything through a conceptual screen. They can experience the feelings of a prayer, and not just "perform" it as an intellectual exercise. Therefore, through prayer, they can actually sense God's nearness.
We can encourage these feelings of nearness to God through stimulating the children's wonderful sense of imagination. In the realm of spirituality,
"imagine" does not mean "pretend," but rather that a meaningful image of God or significant human figures or events has been created. The prayers themselves show us how to lead the children into these images through what the words describe. We "see" all of the Jewish people together in their tents, we envision the beautiful world
which God has given us, we experience Moshe (Moses) leading us through the sea to freedom.
Indeed, when we pray with children, they can take us places we would have difficulty going by ourselves! Children's services should be designed with the spiritual abilities of young children in mind. The prayers can be selected and presented in such a way that hopefully will engage the imaginations and the feelings of all the participants. I hope that you and your children will often feel God there, listening and being involved in the "conversations."
Courtesy of the Auerbach Agency
for Jewish Education.
Note: Many of us think of the High Holidays as a very personal time for reflection and contemplation, possibly beyond the grasp of our children. I encourage you to share this self-reflection with your children, engage them in prayer, repentance, and charity. The best way to start is to apologize to your children for anything that you may have done to hurt or offend them. What a great role model you will be! For books to share with children during the High Holidays, please go to the
Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish
Education. - Flaura Koplin Winston, MD