Mar b’rai d’Ravina ki havah mesayeim tzelosei amar hachi: Yih'yu l'ratzon imrei fi v’hegyon libi l’fanecha…

Mar, the son of Ravina, when he concluded his tefilah, said the following:

May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You...(Tehilim 19:15 cited in Brachos 17a)

What do we mean when we say this pasuk at the end of our tefila?

If, when we were davening, the words of our mouths matched the thoughts of our heart this pasuk would be redundant.

If the words we said were not what we were thinking in our heart, we have a much bigger problem.

Sheloshah Hakadosh Baruch Hu son'an: hamdaber echad bapeh v'echad baleiv... There are three that Hashem [kaviyachol] hates: Someone who says one thing while thinking something else...  (Pesachim 113b)

Is this pasuk saying that when we daven saying one thing but thinking something else Hashem should accept that?  The gemara says that it is hated! 

Perhaps we are asking Hashem to accept both the brachos we said without kavanas haleiv and the brachos we said with kavanas haleiv.  (Iyun Tefilah, Otzar haTefilos Ashkenaz, page 15-23)

Based on the Radak on this pasuk, the Sefer Tiv haTefilah takes a different approach.  He posits that imrei pi refers to the words we said having organized our thoughts to the point that we can express them.  Hegyon leibi are the thoughts we have not yet formulated into words.  We ask Hashem to accept both of these.  (Volume 1, page 361)

But let’s take a closer look at the harsh attitude toward someone who says one thing while thinking something else.  A better translation would be one who says one thing while intending something else.  Such hypocrisy is treated harshly.  Is this chas v’shalom what anyone does during tefilah?  Very rarely, if ever.

Yet we do sometimes think of other things while saying the words of tefilah and these thoughts prevent us from davening as well as we wish to.  What is the answer to this problem?

First, another question.

What prevents our children from going to sleep when we wish they would?

I think the answer to both questions is often the same: Intrusive thoughts.   Thoughts that intrude on our ability to focus during davening and intrude on our children’s ability to fall asleep.

Rabbi Ackerman, I also have trouble falling asleep sometimes because of intrusive thoughts, things that are on my mind, things I’m worried about.  What could my child worry about that keeps him awake at night?

I would suggest that you consult the expert on that question: your child.

And I’ll give you a few of the possibilities:

Your child may be struggling with FOMO!

FOMO is not contagious.  It’s ubiquitous.  FOMO is an acronym for Fear Of Missing Out.

A twenty year old teacher once told me that she has harder days in the classroom when she’s tired.  I asked her what happens that she isn’t able to get enough sleep.  She said I live with my parents and siblings.  There’s a lot going on and I don’t want to miss anything.  That’s FOMO at work.  It works on adults, too.

The best way to counter FOMO at bedtime is to insulate your child from the activities going in her earshot once she is in bed.  Parents often try, with varying degrees of success, to keep the environment outside of the child’s room quieter.  An alternative is to place white noise and nature sound machines in the child’s room to both block out the other sounds and help her relax. 

Another possibility: Children sometimes fear things and don’t get help with the fear so they lie in bed thinking about it, worrying, not falling asleep.

This is not a recent issue.  In 1978 a colleague asked me this question:

My four year daughter comes out of bed and tells me she’s afraid that there’s a monster under her bed.  I go into her room, turn on the light, and we look under the bed.  No monster.  Ten minutes later, she’s back and we do it all again.  What else can I do?

I suggested that when she goes into her daughter’s room to check under the bed, they leave the light off.  That way, her daughter will know whether the monster runs away when you turn on the light, or whether you’ll scare it away even in the dark, or maybe it isn’t even there at all even when it’s dark!  A week later, my colleague told me that it had been very helpful.

Rather than telling your child that there’s nothing to be afraid of, ask her to tell you about her fear.  Ask her to describe it in detail and what she wishes she could do to make it go away.  Then ask her how you can help her make it go away.  When she says she doesn’t know, tell her to think about how to make it go away and that you’ll help her when she’s ready.  Don’t contradict her.  Join her in her concern.  Just knowing that she’s not the only one concerned about it will be helpful to her.

Okay, Rabbi Ackerman, I understand that happens with young children.  But my son is 14 and still complains that he can’t fall asleep.  What could he be thinking about that’s keeping him up?

Another possibility: Stress.  Older children sometimes lie in bed stressed by issues at school or at home. They may be struggling to keep up in class, experiencing problems with their friends, or being bullied. At home, stress can arise from parents’ marital problems, the arrival of a new baby, or a change in their sleeping arrangements such as having to share a bedroom with additional or different siblings.  Invite your child to describe what he finds stressful if that is what is keeping him awake and what he and you can do to address it.

Another possibility: Your child is physically uncomfortable in his room.  It may be too warm, too cold, too much light coming in, too dark without a night light, have an unpleasant smell, or something else you would never have thought of.  Get expert guidance.  Ask your child!

Another possibility:  Stimulation caused by device screens.  Make sure your child turns off all devices at least one hour before bedtime.

Many children, and adults, fall asleep faster when they are feeling secure, loved, and taken care of.  Problems may not go away but they become smaller when someone else listens to them, accepts your perception of them, and assures you that they will help you through them.  Make sure your child’s bedtime thoughts include the knowledge that no matter what she did or didn’t do, no matter what she is concerned about, you love her and you will support her in every way you can.

That is every child’s dream, and you can make it come true.

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.

He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time  Available at bookstores and on Amazon.

He can be reached at 718-344-6575.