Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Essence of Yom Kippur
To dedicate this lesson

Let the Children Sing


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Tishrei 4 5780
As Yom Kippur fast approaches, we wonder, "Is there any way to ‘get an edge’ on our Tefilot, perhaps some added ingredient we can add to convince Hashem to forgive our sins & grant us a blessed New Year?" I think there is.

In the Torah reading on first day of Rosh Hashana, we read about Hagar & Yishmael, who had been cast off into the desert. The Torah says that Hagar placed the boy under a tree, & walked some distance away – some "bow-shots away" – then lifted her voice & wept. Suddenly, Hashem "heard the voice of the child" & sent an angel to save them both, via a well of water, & to bless Yishmael’s future.

What a puzzling episode! Hagar is the one who prays, & yet G-d hears "the voice of the child?!" Where in the text does it say that the child prayed?! And what is this business about "bow-shots?!" What can that possibly mean?!

I had the z’chut to have once had a long chat with Rav Shlomo Carlebach. He told me two great things that I shall always remember (one I share with you now; the other I will tell you IY"H in next week’s parsha sheet).

I asked him about his unique style of singing & story-telling at the very same time; how did he come to choose that approach & why was it so successful & penetrating. He told me, "Do you know the difference between adults & children? When you start to tell an adult a story that he or she has heard before, they immediately yell out, ‘Oh, I already know that story - you don’t need to tell it to me again!" But if you tell a familiar story to a child, he or she excitedly yells out, "Yes, I know that story! Please, please, tell it to me again, I love that story!"

"You see, the child is innocent, pure & unblemished; the adult, sadly, is cynical, pre-occupied & very full of himself. The story penetrates to the heart of a tender, soft child, but never gets past the hardened exterior of the adult. My music, and my stories, bring out the beautiful child in my listeners."

The prayer that Hashem heard was indeed the prayer of Hagar, but He heard the "child" in that prayer; the pure, simple, un-sophisticated child-like purity that Hagar’s soul expressed when she begged for her life. That struck home in G-d like a piercing arrow; that was the "bow-shot" that she aimed straight at Hashem’s loving heart.

The word, "Chatati" means, "I have sinned;" but it also can mean, "I have missed the mark." If we truly want our Tefilot to find their mark, to hit the right spot, we have to return to that innocent, pure, child-like neshama within us, & launch our prayers from there towards the Almighty. They then will invariably travel far, & fast, & almost certainly will reach their intended target straight-on.

May we - all the boys and girls of every age - send our Tefilot flying skyward; & may they return with the promise of Briyut, Brachot & Shalom.
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