The Baal Shem Tov was once walking with a few Chasidim when they witnessed someone davening with his hands waving all over the place. Some of the Chasidim said he looked insane, but The Baal Shem Tov was quick to respond; “If someone was drowning and they were waving their arms around trying to stay afloat you would not call him insane. Maybe this Yid is drowning, maybe he’s really in the deep water and needs a rescue. How would we know?”
There are many ways people pray, from solemn swaying to joyous clapping and everything in between, yet the image of a person wrapped in a tallis, holding a siddur and shuckling back and forth is the stereotype of a person davening. So is this how we should pray? To have deep intentions for each word, our eyes closed focusing on each letter, each sound, each definition? No, at least not in general. Rather we should strive to pray like a child. The Baal Shem Tov said that Rabbi Nachunya Ben Hakana the Tanna learnt every kavana there is for tefillah but even then he would pray like a child. So what does it mean to pray like a child? It means to pray simply – to pray to our Father in Heaven who loves us greatly with openness and innocence.
But there is another level to praying like a child beside the simplicity; it is that a child does not understand time and place. We have been to a restaurant or a movie or even in shul and a child starts to cry, so the parents say “Shhh not now – we are in a restaurant”, yet that has no meaning to the child. He doesn’t understand the difference between where he is now or his home. To him it is all the same, to him crying is not exclusive to a time or place – it’s an emotion that needed to be expressed and so it was. Even more so, a child might cry about something that seems so insignificant, but a child would also cry about something that is so impossible to us and we would say it’s a waste of time to pray about. Reb Pinchas of Koritz was once overheard stepping out of Shemonah Esrei saying “Master of The Universe, help us that our cleaning lady return to our home.” The Talmidim around him thought for sure this was a deep kabbalistic anecdote. So they asked him what he meant; “Simply,” Reb Pinchas said, “yesterday the cleaning lady left my house upset. I am asking God that she come back and continue to clean for us, because if I can’t ask God then who can I ask?”
We see in this weeks Parsha Moshe is pleading with Hashem, praying, begging to enter into The Holy Land. The pasuk says, “I pleaded to God at that time saying…”(3:23), Moshe begins saying “at that time” but we never get an explanation as to what is “that time”. The Holy Rav Naftali Tzvi of Ropshitz says, Moshe is teaching us that Tefillah is not exclusive to a certain time, that prayer is not limited. Davening could be at any time and at any place.
Perhaps that is truly what it means to pray like a child – to disregard the time and place, to look up at our Father in Heaven andPray. When we pray like a child we pray whenever the feeling is there, regardless of time or place, and for whatever we want to. To pray like a child, nothing is too big – nothing is too small, and no time is better than the next.
May we truly daven like a simple child.