Rabbi Ariel Tal
Tefilla as a Personal Growth Tool
Tefilla is an ideal personal growth tool. Classically, Tefilla is depicted as a connection between Man and God. However, let’s examine the use of Tefilla as a self-mantra exercise for coaching, and its effect on changing and improving one’s thought process, achieving one’s goals and a tool for creating a positive state of mind.
In the line of life coaching I teach, the focus of the work is on creating positive self-mantras in three basic steps. The first step is to identify the goal and the obstacles that stand in front of that person to achieve their goal. Those obstacles are usually an extreme and unbalanced thought process that is inhibiting the person from moving forward in one or many areas in their life.
The second stage is creating a strategy for overcoming those obstacles by incorporating a series of self-mantras. The mantras only begin to work after many repetitions throughout the day, for a significant period of time. How can we use this personal-growth model for students in formal or informal Tefilla settings? In order to answer the question, let’s take a step back and identify two main obstacles to Tefilla student engagement.
The first is a language barrier and the second a lack of connection to the Tefilla itself. The language barrier exists for all students, even for fluent Hebrew speakers. When a student, who may be unmotivated coming into the Tefilla session, is confronted with the language barrier, that becomes a significant obstacle to creating positive Tefilla engagement. The connection to the Tefilla itself is a complex subject. In general, many Educators are aware of the challenge to engage students in Tefilla, and finding the right formula for Tefilla engagement requires creative thinking, and making the Tefilla experience relevant and translatable to real life situations.
The Model – Tefilla as a Personal Growth and Coaching Tool
The word “Lehitpalel” in Hebrew is a fascinating verb. The “Binyan” or the verb template has both an active and passive quality. “Lehitpalel” means to judge or assess oneself. Tefilla is for man, not for God. God does not “need” our Tefilla since he is omnipotent. If Tefilla is for man, then how can we use it for our personal growth and development? If we look at Tefilla as a designed set of self-mantras, we can begin to untap the tremendous potential in Tefilla as a structured method of reconnecting to our spiritual core, our value systems and even as a useful method for creating positive self-mantras. As a professionally trained life coach, I learned about the powerful method of mantras.
A mantra is a sentence of phrase that one repeats consistently over a period of time. The mantra has the power to completely change or reverses one’s train of thought, especially if the thoughts are unbalanced, and can also reinforce positive thoughts that one challenges to maintain. Many athletes, stoics and professionals who deal with pressure packed environments achieve mental toughness by having self-mantras that help guide them through the most difficult of situations. I have helped clients who changed their thought process through saying a simple self-mantra, and as a result made positive strides in their life.
How can Tefilla be used as a mantra? The beauty of Tefilla is that it covers all areas of life. Let’s examine a situation, and through it discover a new way to engage our students in Tefilla. Mark is a student who struggles in social situations, especially in a school setting. Mark’s friends claim that he constantly argues and fights with them, and as a result, don’t include Mark in their games. Mark feels left out and isolated. After speaking with his teachers and the school consultant, Mark identifies his challenge – he only wants his way and is not willing to compromise. How can Mark change his thought process? This change will be the difference between Mark having a positive or negative social life, which will directly affect his experience at school. The teacher/consultant or relevant staff member can take a verse or bracha from the Tefilla that directly relates to Mark’s challenge, and through it create a self-mantra. One of the Tefillot that relates to challenges is the Bracha “גואל ישראל” in the Amida – asking God to free us from difficult situations. גואלmeans redemption or emerging from challenging and negative circumstances.
The teacher can create a mantra with Mark, for example – “I will listen to my friends and not just to myself” – and insert the mantra into his daily Tefilla during גואל ישראל. This seems like a simple and possibly oversimplified solution, but its effect is profound. If Mark will consistently recite the mantra during Tefilla (especially if he continues to say it throughout the day!) his mindset will begin to shift. This is particularly true for children, who have a more elastic mind. Tefilla provides a consistent structure. Instead of Mark having to find the time to say it and forgetting more times than not, Tefilla provides the structure Mark needs to focus, say the mantra and reflect.Tefilla, in this case, serves as a personal growth tool.