Video 7 – Understanding Prayer: Heart, Mind and Soul

In this video, Rabbi Sacks discusses the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset, and why Judaism, especially around the High Holy Days, is a sustained tutorial in the growth mindset.

As we approached Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in 2017, Rabbi Sacks created a series of ten short videos to delve into what prayer really is, and how it can change your life.

Each video includes subtitles in: English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Russian and Spanish (click on the 'Settings' icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the video-player to select your preferred language).

Carol Dweck, the Stanford psychologist, changed our entire understanding of human development in her paradigm shifting book, Mindset. What interested her was why some children went on to great achievements, and others not.

What really fascinated her was that it didn’t depend on their abilities. What made the difference was that some children fear failure, so they don’t take risks, whereas others don’t have this fear. In fact they don’t even think of failure as failure. They think of it as learning; trying out something new; discovering what works and what doesn’t.

The children who fear failure have, she said, a fixed mindset. They think that ability is something you just have or don’t. So they try not to risk getting things wrong in case it makes them look dumb.

Whereas the other children have what she calls a growth mindset. They think of ability as something you develop over time, so they keep learning, working, training and taking on new challenges. They have resilience. They’re not put off by failure. They intuitively know that genius is 99 per cent perspiration and only one per cent inspiration.

They’re like the painter Van Gogh who kept going despite the fact that he only sold one painting in his lifetime, which wasn’t for lack of trying since his brother and greatest supporter Theo was an art dealer.

Or like J. K. Rowling, whose first Harry Potter book was turned down by the first twelve publishers she sent it to.

If you want to achieve anything in life, develop a growth mindset. And Judaism, especially around the High Holy Days, is a sustained tutorial in a growth mindset. How? Because the very essence of Yom Kippur is forgiveness. God forgives our mistakes if we admit they were mistakes and if we strive to learn from them, so that we are not tomorrow what we were yesterday. So there’s nothing to fear about failure. God knows we all fail from time to time. He wrote that into the script and provided the antidote. He called it Kapparah - atonement, forgiveness. It’s the Kippur in Yom Kippur.

In fact the whole idea of teshuvah – admission, confession, healing the past, coming back to where we’re supposed to be – is about personal growth. The heroes of Judaism aren’t the ones who were born great. They’re the ones who became great by taking risks, surviving trials, overcoming handicaps, staying firm in their sense of purpose and strong in their resilience. That’s Moses. That’s David. That’s Hannah. That’s Ruth.

And that’s us, if we take Yom Kippur to heart. God empowers us to dare greatly, and He does so by being, in the language of our prayers, Mochel avonot amo: He who pardons the iniquities of His people. He is the God who forgives, the God who wants us to grow.

This video was kindly sponsored by Alexander Machkevitch, in memory of his parents Rachel & Anton Machkevitch.

We are grateful to our generous sponsors who helped enable us to produce this video series.