Out of the Mouths of Babes
Ex ore parvulorum veritas, an ancient Latin proverb, is most commonly translated as: “Out of the mouths of babes – truth.” This phrase can be traced back to our own book of Psalms 8:2: “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings You established strength.”
The Latin version reflects a concept that is seen throughout Jewish thought and most notably in the Talmud: children, even unwittingly, will state the Truth, whether uncomplicated, with some deeper meaning, or even on a prophetic level.
One of the first prayers (or truths, if you will) that children learn to sing when attending Jewish pre-school is the famous verse of “Mah Tovuh”:
“Mah Tovuh Ohalecha Ya’akov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael.”
“How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.”
This is one of the blessings that the sinister prophet Bilaam is forced by God to proclaim over the people of Israel.
Rabbi Ovadia Sforno inquires as to the meaning behind this blessing which might give additional insight as to why this particular verse is used at the very beginning of the Morning Prayer service, and as to why it has become over the centuries a favored song of Jewish children.
Sforno explains that “tents” refers to Torah study halls, and that “dwelling places” refers to synagogues. Sforno further elaborates that synagogues are uniquely suited for the receipt by God of a person’s prayers.
Sforno’s point bears examining. He seems to be claiming that the same person, praying at the same time, with the same concentration, intensity, sincerity and heartfelt emotion will have a dissimilar effect depending on whether they are praying from the privacy of their home or in the more public synagogue. The mere change of location and sanctity of the place will have a radically different positive result on the response to our prayers.
May we always have opportunity to pray in a synagogue and may God answer our prayers for the best.
To all of our very cute (luckily for them) children who have now started their summer vacation. It is quite a treat to hear them singing their prayers with joy, enthusiasm and earnestness. We can learn from them.