Today is June 14, but it is also the 12th day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, a month which boasts the Jewish holiday of Shavuot- Pentecost- the holiday celebrating the Giving of our Torah. It’s a very special holiday and a very special month… a time in which we are meant to feel especially close to G-d, as on that day we are referred to as His children… children worthy of receiving afresh in every generation, the gift of the Torah. A highlight of the Shavuot synagogue services is the reading aloud of the Ten Commandments. The congregation stands and I close my eyes, trying to picture myself there at Mount Sinai, hearing the claps of thunder and the trumpeting of the ram’s horn. I try to feel how the earth trembled as G-d’s voice spoke from the clouds covering the mountaintop. The Sages say that the souls of every Jew, born since that day and ever to be born in the future, were there at the foot of the mountain that day, to say to G-d “We will do your bidding and keep your commandments.” I am struck with gratitude and awe that on the anniversary of the giving of G-d’s word, I am living the life of the Bible and raising my family here in G-d’s land.
It is therefore not surprising that our Sages say that the eve of the very first day of the Hebrew month of Sivan is the most auspicious time to pray for the physical and spiritual welfare of one’s children and grandchildren. Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630) composed a special prayer which has become traditional to say on this day, the day of his death, known as the Tefillat HaShlah. This prayer, the Shlah’s Prayer, is named after the title of his best-known work, but through the years it has become affectionately known as “The Prayer for our Children”. In it we pray that our children should grow up to be G-d- fearing and righteous, and that all of their needs should be fulfilled. That our children should be crowned with the glory of the Torah with which G-d crowned His people, that we should have the strength and wisdom to educate them to follow the right path, and that they should find the right spouses to help them continue raising future righteous generations. While the prayer is wonderful to say at any time during the year, there is a special power on one particular day to say this prayer. That day is the eve of the Jewish lunar month of Sivan.
Perhaps the month of Sivan is especially appropriate for the Prayer for our Children, because Shavuot comes after seven weeks of anticipation. Shavuot in Hebrew means weeks, and it refers to the seven weeks that link Passover to Pentecost. “And you shall count for yourselves… seven complete Sabbaths shall there be…” (Leviticus 23:15) Pentecost not only celebrates the Biblical Festival of First Fruits, but marks the day that the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. Hence, every day, starting from Passover, when we count the days leading up to Pentecost, we are also celebrating the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Elitzur came home from school with a chart of 49 squares and stickers to mark each day that passes. My big girls had reminders set on their cell phones to beep every night so they would remember to count. Our Karnei Shomron neighborhood e-mail had a program that automatically sent out reminders every night, telling the whole community what day we were up to in the counting, so we wouldn’t forget to count.
Counting is a sign of love, of anticipation. Netanel and Elitzur count their marbles, their Harry Potter cards… the number of school days left till summer vacation. The Jewish people count the days up to the giving of our Torah- the Code of Law. The daily counting lends a feeling of expectancy, eagerness, even desire, to the weeks leading up to the holiday. The name Pentecost means fifty. And when that fiftieth day comes, we can picture standing at the foot of Mount Sinai, feeling yet another layer of servitude from our enslavement to Pharaoh in Egypt slipping away, as we commit ourselves instead, to serving G-d.
And with this prayer we are counting the things that are most precious to us—our children. Every year I tell myself that I will remember on the right day. This year it came out on Thursday evening, June 2nd. I was sitting at my computer, checking my e-mails, when I saw an e-mail from a friend, reminding everyone on our Karnei Shomron list that tonight was the night for the Prayer for our Children. She even attached the text of the prayer so nobody would have to look for it. Dinner wasn’t ready; my older girls were pulling tinfoil pans of Shabbat leftovers out of the frig, and if I didn’t get Elitzur to do his eye exercises and into the shower soon, and call in Netanel from our outside basketball hoop to practice his Bar Mitzvah Torah reading, they’d both get to bed really late. But I also knew that if I stood up and walked away from the computer, I would forget and miss that window of opportunity for this prayer. So I started reading, trying to block out the noise… the life around me.
“You have been the Eternal, our G-d, before You created the world, and You are the Eternal, our G-d, since you created the world, and You are G-d forever. You created Your world so that Your Divinity should become revealed through Your holy Torah, as our Sages expounded on the first word therein, and for Israel, for they are Your people and Your inheritance whom You have chosen from among all nations. You have given them Your holy Torah and drawn them toward Your great Name”. These two commandments are, “Be fruitful and multiply” and “You shall teach them to your children.” Their purpose is that You did not create the world to be empty, but to be inhabited, and that it is for Your glory that You created, fashioned, and perfected it, so that we, our offspring, and all the descendants of your people Israel will know Your Name and study Your Torah.
“Thus I entreat You, O Eternal, supreme King of kings. My eyes are fixed on You until You favor me, and hear my prayer, and provide me with sons and daughters who will also be fruitful and multiply, they and their descendents unto all generations, in order that they and we might all engage in the study of Your holy Torah, to learn and to teach, to observe and to do, and to fulfill with love all the words of Your Torah’s teaching. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah and attach our heart to Your commandments to love and revere Your Name.”
As I mumbled these words aloud to myself, the noises around me took on meaning. These noisemakers were my sons… my daughters, the ones I was praying about… the gifts G-d gave me and my husband to populate His beautiful world, to raise them in His image, and to glorify His word. The world fell away and I continued.
“… For this I have come to appeal and plead before You, that my offspring and their descendants be proper, and that You find no imperfection or disrepute in me or them forever. May they be people of peace, truth, goodness and integrity in the eyes of G-d and man. Help them to become practiced in Torah, accomplished in Scriptures, Mishnah, Talmud, Kabbalah, good deeds, kindness, and fine attributes, and to serve you with an inner love and reverence, not merely outwardly.”
Aaah, how beautiful. How I pray and hope that the enthusiasm and love for Torah and doing good that my children show, will continue. My 10th grader, Avraham, comes home from his school each week, runs out to find his neighborhood friends, then comes home late at night and picks up a volume of Scriptures to study before bedtime. I know that this can not be taken for granted. My daughter Ahuva prints up a Bible lesson from her favorite teacher every Friday so she can study it over Shabbat. I know that this can not be taken for granted. My daughter Avigayil consistently reminds my two year old grandson to say the blessings over his food, gently training him to remember the One who provides his sustenance. Again, I know this can not be taken for granted and I close my eyes in gratitude and supplication.
“Provide every one of them with their needs with honor, and give them health, honor and strength, good bearing and appearance, grace and loving-kindness. May love and brotherhood reign among them. Provide them with suitable marriage partners of scholarly and righteous parentage who will also be blessed with all that I have asked for my own descendants, since they will share the same fate.”
I have one married child and three daughters of marriageable age. Ahuva, Leora, Atara. Raised in the same household by the same set of parents, but all so different. Those words—“suitable marriage partners” is what I pray for each day. May each young man—each potential groom– see the inner and outer beauty of each of my girls. But may they all share a desire for righteousness.
“You, the Eternal, know everything that is concealed, and to You all my heart’s secrets are revealed. For all my intention concerning the above is for the sake of Your great and holy Name and Torah. Therefore, answer me, O Eternal, answer me in the merit of our holy Forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For the sake of the fathers, save the children, so the branches will be like the roots. For the sake of Your servant, David, who is the fourth part of Your Chariot, who sings with Divine inspiration.
“Fortunate is everyone who fears the Eternal, who walks in His ways. When you eat of the toil of your hands, you are fortunate, and good will be yours. Your wife is like a fruitful vine in the inner chambers of your home; your children are like olive shoots around your table. Look! So is blessed the man who fears the Eternal. May the Eternal bless you from Zion, and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life. May you see your children’s children, peace upon Israel.”
I have so many dreams for these seven miracles of mine. In every Jewish household, every Jewish parent prays for the opportunity to have their children give purpose to G-d’s world, to branch out and take root and be fruitful. Sages suggest that it is a good idea to say this prayer for each child—that each mother and grandmother should pray for each of their children and grand children. And more than that—for women to pray for their children before they are born and even for single, unmarried women to pray for their unborn children! We know the story of Hannah in the Book of Samuel. It is written that Hannah used to go up to Jerusalem with her husband Elkanah to pray for a child. Hannah is included, sometimes, in the list of our matriarchs, for she is considered the mother of prayer. How she prayed for her unborn child! For 19 years she prayed for a child.
I recently read a beautiful piece written by a wonderfully learned scholar. She said that there is a midrash that states that Hannah sewed her unborn child a little coat, praying that one day there would be a son to wear it… praying that it would protect him from the evil eye, that he would be wrapped in his mother’s prayers. This scholar continues that just like we would never send our child into the cold without a coat, we are obligated to cloak him in a shield of our prayers for him. And if we do not provide him with that protection of prayer, we are not fulfilling the duty of a Jewish mother. We don’t know what dangers await our child—the wrong picture shown to our innocent little one which could get engraved on his innocent soul, the car that zooms out of nowhere to find his trampled body lying on the road. ‘Mother;, she says, ‘don’t send your child out without the coat of prayer’. That’s why this woman claims that this Prayer for our Children should be recited for each child, with his name mentioned. Just like a cloak needs to fit each child… so does a prayer. And mention his name, she says, with a personalized hope, personalized Divine Providence. Your son is having a hard time focusing in his Bible studies… pray for inspiration. Your child is having a hard time providing for his family… pray for his sustenance. Your child is ready to get married and the dating scene is so difficult… pray she finds someone easily.
All parents want the best for their children. I pray this prayer for Avigayil, Ahuva, Leora, Atara, Avraham, Netanel, Elitzur, Matan who by marrying Avigayil is now my child, Amit my grandson, the unborn grandchild Avigayil is now carrying, and all my future grandchildren… may they be happy and upright and lead fruitful lives. And may we each be blessed to be parents who can help our children share their unique light with the world. Amen.
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