Parshas Vayera transcribed and translated from previous shiurim of the Tzadik Rav Eliezer Berland Shlit"a
“In the heat of the day” (18:1)
On that day, that Avraham Avinu went out to look for guests, Hashem took the sun out of its sheath, it was so hot that no one was able to leave their home. It was the fire of Gehinom! No one went outside. The only person who went out was Avraham Avinu. It was virtual suicide. He was the only one who ran out and looked for guests that day. The Torah is telling us about Avraham Avinu’s performance of the mitzvah of welcoming guests for a specific reason. After all, what actually happened here? Avraham Avinu just gave them some bread and water? What’s so special about that? Hospitality exists everywhere in the world. Any house in the desert welcomes guests. But Avraham Avinu is another matter altogether. By him, it was a matter of mesirus nefesh! It is not for nothing that the Torah relates that it was the third day after Avraham’s bris milah. Not only was he feeling weak, but Hashem had even taken the sun out of its sheath. The Torah is telling us that Avraham Avinu preformed the mitzvah of hospitality with mesirus nefesh, under the most difficult possible conditions.
Rabbeinu said, “Love of Hashem needs to drive a person to do crazy things in order to perform His mitzvos and do His will. One must be willing to get covered in mud and muck in order to serve Hashem and do His mitzvos” (Likutei Moharan 2:5). The Rebbe is teaching us that we need to have mesirus nefesh for each and every mitzvah, even if it means rolling around in mud and filth. We are required to fulfill each and every mitzvah with mesirus nefesh—for every crown of the letter yud. For each thing that is the will of Hashem Yisborach a person needs to sacrifice his soul. One is forbidden to pass up any mitzvah, unless someone is literally standing there threatening you with a gun to your head. The Rebbe himself laid down in the muck and mire for every mitzvah.
When Yosef HaTzaddik went to look for his brothers, he did so with mesirus nefesh. “My brothers do I seek” (37:16). He knew that they intended to kill him. He knew that he had nothing to protect him. He knew that they were going to throw him into the pit—he knew everything! Nothing was hidden from him. He said: “I need to have mesirus nefesh for each and every mitzvah.” During the time when the Greeks ruled over the land of Israel, the Jews had mesirus nefesh for each and every mitzvah, even the rabbinically ordained mitzvos! They gave their son’s a bris, waved lulavim, and kept Shabbas even though, because of the circumstances, they were actually exempt! They had mesirus nefesh for each and every mitzvah. In parshas Vayishlach, the Midrash HaGadol addresses the pasuk, “the generation of those who seek Him, those who strive for Your presence [the nation of] Yaakov, Selah” (Tehillim 24:6) and asks: Who counts as “the generation of those who seek Him”? Who is seeking Hashem? Who wants Hashem? Who is willing to have mesirus nefesh for Hashem? Are we this generation that seeks Him? All we do is spend our whole day eating and drinking, hardly even taking a break! We don’t stop eating and drinking for a minute. Can this be described as “seeking Him”? Rather, the Midrash HaGadol says, only people who have mesirus nefesh for each and every mitzvah are called, “the generation of those who seek Him, those who strive for Your presence [the nation of] Yaakov, Selah.”
Tzaddikim cried over each and every mitzvah. How many tears did the Kloisenberger Rebbe shed over every mitzvah? He cried so much that he shouldn’t fail to keep any mitzvah, even while he was in the death camps! He literally shed rivers of tears that he shouldn’t have to desecrate Shabbas or eat treif food. There is a story about him that one day he arrived back at the camp and it was almost empty. From 6,000 people, there remained only 2,000. Just as he arrived at the camp, the announcement was made that they would be distributing food. He didn’t take any of the food. Instead, he immediately went into a shack at the edge of the camp and started shedding rivers of tears. He burst out in a bitter cry and said, “I don’t want to be defiled by their food!” Suddenly, someone called him and said, “There is someone calling you to come outside.” He went out and saw an elderly Jew standing there holding out to him a loaf of bread and a saucer of jam, and he said to him, “Here, you can eat from this.” The Kloisenberger Rebbe said, “I immediately realized it was a miracle. It was then that I understood that Hashem was watching over me, that Hashem was with me.” Also by Rabbeinu HaKadosh, everything only came to him after tremendous effort and suffering.
Every person needs to have mesirus nefesh, to struggle and to overcome the obstacles. If your Torah study wasn’t successful, don’t just say “that’s it,” and walk away. “I'll go and drink a cup of tea, or go take a nap.” Quite the contrary, if your chevrusa didn’t show up, then go to his house and drag him out! If a person doesn’t have mesirus nefesh to go and learn Torah, then this is not Chassidus! It’s not Breslov! It is nothing other than laziness! Are you greater than the Rebbe? You think you should have it easier than he did? There is no such thing as someone having an easy life! If it’s easy, then it’s from the Sitra Achra. Therefore, everyone needs to have mesirus nefesh for each and every mitzvah, and in fact, for everything in holiness.
“But where is the lamb for the offering?” (22:7)
The moment Avraham took Yitzhak to do the Akeida, the Satan didn’t know what to do. How could he cancel this Akeida? Yitzhak went happily to the Akeida, l’shem shemayim. The Satan knew that the moment Yitzhak was placed on the altar, he (the Satan) would surrender control for all the generations. So he tried all kinds of tricks to prevent the Akeida. He changed himself into a river, etc., as is explained in the Midrash. But he was totally unsuccessful. So the Satan said to Yitzhak, “I heard from behind the Curtain that the lamb is destined to be the sacrifice, not You. It’s only a big show that you appear to be going to let yourself be slaughtered. They may be taking you to the Akeida, but it won’t happen in the end. I’m telling you: there will be no Akeida! Rather, a lamb will be the offering.” And then Yitzhak screamed, “Father, what are we doing? Where is the lamb for the offering? Am I being offered to Hashem? Will I be a complete offering for Hashem, or will I only be the shelamim? How will you sacrifice me?” Yitzhak was afraid all the time that Avraham would find some lamb on the way and he would sacrifice the lamb as an elevation offering, and he would be the shelamim—a lesser offering. Because if they were already going to sacrificing him, he wanted to be the holiest offering. Then Avraham Avinu said to him, “Hashem will seek out for himself the lamb for the offering, my son.” [The Midrash teaches that Yitzhak understood from this reply that he himself would be the sacrificial lamb.] Forget about the Satan. Don't pay attention to anything that he told you. We are going to the Akeida for a sanctification of His name—literally! Go with simple and straightforward thoughts, that you are truly going to be the Akeida. You have nothing to worry about. You will always be the holiest of the sacrifices, the elevation offering to Hashem. You are completely G-dly.
So that is why when a person starts the prayer service, he must say the portion of the Akeida. It is forbidden to ever skip the section of the Akeida. As it says in Seder HaYom, whoever merits saying the parsha of the Akeida, merits being saved from all suffering on that day. Because through the Akeidas Yitzhak, all the judgments are sweetened until the end of all the generations. One must read the Akeida every day! Since there are new judgments every day, we need to sweeten them afresh every day. And this can only be done through reading out loud the portion of the Akeida. A person absolutely must say the Akeida without skipping it—ever! For whoever says the Akeida, it is promised that he will not suffer any damage on that day, and he will merit sweetening all the harsh judgments.