Parshat Va’era: In your ovens
Sharing more secrets of the Torah from Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita.
The moment that Moshe Rabbenu arrived in Egypt, he brought the plagues, he brought the plague of blood, and then after this he brought the frogs, as it’s written: “The frogs came out of the river and they went up and came into your houses…and into your ovens.”
The Egyptians closed all the doors and all of the windows, they closed every door and window that they had, and everything was hermetically sealed. No frog and no insect was able to get in, but the frogs pushed on, and they split the marble, and the marble split from above and from below and the frogs were able to enter.
There were even frogs that jumped into the fire. They sought out the most dangerous places, and they entered them. These frogs said: ‘we need to sacrifice ourselves as a kiddush Hashem, after all Hashem said: ‘And they went up into your houses…and into your ovens.’ So where is the most dangerous place, and which place requires the greatest self-sacrifice? That’s the ovens. Tons of frogs mamash jumped into the ovens, and mamash jumped into the fire.
The moment that they heard the words: ‘into your ovens’ they jumped into the ovens, and they ran to get burned up. They agreed to get burned up, because the main thing is to fulfill the words of Hashem and the will of Hashem with self-sacrifice.
And in truth, the frogs that jumped into the fire didn’t die, but the rest of the frogs did die, because it’s written in verse 9: “And the frogs from the houses, and the courtyards and fields died.” But it’s not written that those who were in the ovens died. Therefore, it’s written in the midrash that the frogs that jumped into the ovens and into the fire continued to live. There is a midrash that says that they live forever, and that they are still living even today.
All the frogs died except those that jumped into the fire and sacrificed themselves. They remained alive.
The holy Zohar says that Hashem only created the world for those who sacrifice themselves al kiddush Hashem (to sanctify Hashem’s name), only for those who are prepared to sacrifice themselves and to jump into the ovens and fires like Chananya, Mishael and Azaria, who learned, kal ve’chomer, from the frogs that jumped into the fires.
They said if the frogs – which are only vermin which lack daat (knowledge of God) and seichel (intelligence) – jumped into the ovens and the flames to do God’s will, all the more so we should jump into the fire!
At every moment, a person needs to agree to jump into the fire. To jump into the flames today means to pray with kavana (intention). This is called jumping into the fire.
In Lesson 80 [of Likutey Moharan] the Rebbe says: “When a person sees that he can’t pray at all, and that he can’t connect his thoughts to his words, then he should remind himself that he would certainly still wish to die to sanctify God’s name.”
A person sees that he can’t pray with kavana, and that he can only pray slowly. He gets up from sleeping, and he can’t concentrate at all. He gets to the Shemona Esrei prayer and he still can’t pray, or that his mind is still stuck in the middle of his sugya, in the middle of his learning, in the middle of his business, in the middle of his argument…. He’s thinking about his business throughout the whole Shemona Esrei, or about the argument, or about his learning.
The whole time, a person is thinking about his money, and his house, or his kids, or what he’s going to be doing in an hour’s time, and where he’s going to go, and he doesn’t stop thinking. His mind is busy processing a million thoughts a minute. So how can he cut himself off from all of these thoughts?
How can he cut himself off?
Rabbenu tells us a wonderful piece of advice about this: ““When a person sees that he can’t pray at all, and that he can’t connect his thoughts to his words, then he should remind himself that he would certainly still wish to die to sanctify God’s name.”
If a person agrees to lay down his life before every letter and every word of prayer, then he’ll have peace [i.e. from all the extraneous thoughts]. Suddenly, his mind will open and the light will get turned on. The Rebbe says that this is something that’s very simple to do, and that everyone can do this very easily, to sacrifice his life al kiddush Hashem.
Our whole work is only to create vessels to contain our negative traits. Each one of us is full of negative traits, full of thoughts, and full of worries. Our mind runs at 600,000 kms a second, and it’s making plans all the time. Here it’s trying to make a million dollars, there’s it’s trying to open a kollel, here it’s trying to start a gemach, the mind runs at the speed of light.
Even Tzaddikim find it difficult to stop their minds. The Rogachover Rebbe wasn’t able to stop his brilliant mind. Naftali Trop couldn’t stop his mind. Rav Natan also said: “I was unable to stop my mind, it was difficult for me to pray with kavana. Until I came to Rabbenu…only Rabbenu, only Rabbenu. Only Rabbenu taught me to take all of the negative traits and all of the thoughts and to put them into the letters. The Rebbe taught me this, and also gave me all of the strength required to do this.”
The Rebbe said that when anyone prays Shemona Esrei slowly and with kavana, this is mamash self-sacrifice, this is the greatest suffering that there is. This is called jumping into the fire. Every Shemona Esrei is a completely new beginning. A person needs to nullify everything that happened to them up until now before every Shemona Esrei.
A person says, behold! I made a mess and blemished things the whole last 24 hours! I stumbled into forbidden sights, forbidden thoughts, and so on and so on, until it’s impossible to even list all of them or tell them over – and now I need to pray?! How can I possibly pray at this point? So then he opens the prayer book, and then closes it again after five minutes. And he says, behold! I did all those terrible things the whole day!
This is what the Rebbe was talking about when he said that we should know that these things aren’t connected to each other. Even a thief needs to pray. Even a thief needs to say [thank you Hashem] that you didn’t make me a goy (non-Jew). He can’t say: “I sold something, so now I’m exempt from praying.”
Therefore, the Rebbe says sacrifice your life in your prayers, and for every letter. You got to the stage of praying, so pray with kavana, even though you just did the biggest, worst sin beforehand. Make teshuva and go into your prayers renewed, as though you had just now been born.
All the success that we achieved throughout all the generations, all of this was only in the merit of those who sacrificed their lives to sanctify God’s name, and who jumped into the flames with happiness and dancing. When we pray with kavana, letter by letter, slowly slowly, then this is exactly the same thing.
This is as if we’d also mamash jumped into the flames, and into the ovens.
Translated from the Tzama Nafshi newsletter.
 This is a term found in the Tanach, which refers to a conclusion that is drawn from a less obvious argument to a more obvious argument.