Parshat Chukat: We need to sacrifice ourselves for Hashem
More secrets of the Torah with Rabbi Eliezer Berland, shlita.
In Lesson 55 of Likutey Moharan, Rebbe Nachman says the following: “And this is the aspect of dust and ashes that’s said about the Para Adumah (red cow). Because the aspect of prayer also requires the aspect of dust and ashes.”
The Rebbe’s innovation here is that the tikkun (spiritual rectification) of the Para Adumah in our generation can be done each day, and every second, via praying with kavana (intent). Praying with real intent is like being burnt, it’s mamash the suffering associated with being burnt.
When it comes time to pray, we need to disconnect from all other thoughts, and all other confusions. And disconnecting from all other thoughts is the biggest torture imaginable. A person is full of thoughts: what’s going to be, here? What’s going to be, there? I opened up a workshop, I opened up a factory, how am I going to pay for all this?!
You should turn to dust and ashes when you pray
If a person really wants to pull off wonders, and to work all the salvations that he needs, this is only possible if he becomes dust and ashes. And we only merit to become dust and ashes via praying with kavana. Praying with real kavana requires so much mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice), it turns a person into dust and ashes.
The tikkun of the Para Adumah is praying with kavana. By praying with intent, a person is turned into a pile of crumbs, he’s completely burnt up. The Para Adumah was also burnt, and the ‘burning up’ today happens via praying with kavana.
The moment a person really sacrifices himself to say every word and every letter properly, really burns himself up to say every single letter in the prayers properly, this is called mesirut nefesh. A person can exert himself to give charity, and help different gemachs (free loan organisations) to make a bunch of loans, and this is all truly wonderful!
But real mesirut nefesh is only when you pray with intent, slowly, slowly. This is true mesirut nefesh.
Sacrifice yourself over every single letter
The Rebbe says, we have to sacrifice our soul over every single letter, every single word, and not to rush through the words. We need to enter in to the ark, enter in to the words, enter into the shemonah esrei prayer, into the letters.
Each letter wants to give you all the presents in the whole world. Each letter wants to give you all the shefa (bounty). Each letter grabs a person, twists him around, gives him a hug and tells him: ‘don’t leave me! Why are you going so fast? Why are you running away? I’ll give you everything you want!’
With each letter he says, a person is bringing all the shefa in the world to his doorstep.
Kill yourself to pray properly
The Rebbe says in Lesson 80 that a person should want to die to sanctify God’s name, to sacrifice himself for Kiddush Hashem. When he get to the prayers, he needs to say to himself: “I’m going to die now, to sanctify God’s name.” A person should agree to kill himself over every word of prayer, and to say every word slowly and with kavana.
“I don’t care what’s going to be with the next word”, like Rabbi Moshe of Kovrin wrote, in Ohel Yesharim. If you kill yourself over the first word, or the second, or the third – then how are going to be able to continue to pray?! He replies – you’ll have a miracle, you’ll have revival of the dead.
When a person shows up to the morning prayers, he should be thinking “Now, I’m going to kill myself for three hours to sanctify God’s name.” For every letter, he has to be ready to kill himself al kiddush Hashem. Every single second of praying should be like the throes of dying, he’s dying al Kiddush Hashem, he’s burning himself up, like it’s written: “For your sake we are slaughtered all day long.”
With every word of prayer, you have to expel your stupid ideas, your arrogance, your lust for money.
Don’t start thinking ‘how am I meant to pray like this? What will be?’ Prayer is not some ceremony you perform, it’s not like trying to catch a bus. Every word should completely transform your mind.
A human being is really just a collection of desires. He wants money, he wants honour. If a person doesn’t sacrifice himself in his prayers, he’ll stay like this until 120, he’ll stay being a collection of lusts for money, for pagmi habrit (inappropriate intimacy), nasty thoughts, evil cunning. And this you call ‘being alive’?
If a person is going to live like this, so then why be alive?
Truly, we need to sacrifice ourselves for the spiritual avoda (work) of prayer, and to disconnect from our thoughts. A person spends his whole day thinking about money, about his wife, about his children, about what he’s meant to be doing in another hour. Where is he going? His brain is whirring with a million thoughts a minute. How can he disconnect from these millions of thoughts?
This requires self-sacrifice, to kill ourselves al Kiddush Hashem.
When it comes time to pray, we have to kill ourselves. At that second, we have to recognize that God runs the world, that He’s the King of the world, and that He’s doing everything. Let Him arrange things in the world, and don’t try to help Him.
A person thinks all his thoughts in the belief that he’s somehow helping Hashem to run the world. Instead, just sit and pray quietly, and let Him run the world.
A person needs to start his prayers slowly, slowly, letter by letter, word by word, with every word to die al Kiddush Hashem, because even the sinners of Israel are prepared to die to sanctify God’s name. Even the bigger Jewish sinners would jump into the fire rather than give up their daat (faith / religion), God forbid.
We need to know that praying with kavana is the same as jumping into the fire. If a person agrees to kill himself over every letter, to sanctify God’s name, then suddenly a huge light will open up for him, as the Toldos Aharon brings down in his book. For a whole year, he prayed with tremendous mesirut nefesh over every single letter. He fought to say every single letter with the right kavana.
One day, when he got up to the ahavat olam section of the prayers, he said “that’s it! It’s really life or death! One more letter said with kavana and I’m going to die, really!”
And then such a big spiritual light opened up for him, that he went with that light for the rest of his life.
Translated from the Tzama Nafshi newsletter.