How to serve Hashem from a place of constriction – Rav Eliezer Berland

How to serve Hashem in a time of constriction - Rav Eliezer Berland
Rav Berland explains how to serve Hashem even when we're going through difficult times.


The following has been excerpted, translated and transcribed from an article that appeared in the Pesach 5777 edition of ‘Hithadshut’.

Rav Natan explains in Likutey Halachot (Hoshen Mishpat, Pikadon, 4:8) that we have eight different types of mochin (holy mindsets). Each of us is obligated to experience each one of these eight types of mindset.

There is [the holy mindset called] gadlut d’gadlut expansive consciousness (lit. the ‘biggest of the biggest’)…and all other different types of mindset. And connected to this, a person is also given a terrible test, that suddenly they [i.e. Heaven] take away all of his mochin (spiritual frame of mind).

They want to see how this person is going to serve Hashem, if he doesn’t have mochin (spiritual mindset). If you’re serving Hashem with a spiritual mindset, that’s not such a big deal.

When you have an expanded mind, you’re understanding things, you’re enthusiastic [about doing mitvahs] – then you can sing [to Hashem] in a marvelous way.

And then suddenly, you experience a moment of despair, or a moment of depression, and your mind stops working. They took your moach (spiritual mindset) away –

They want to see if now you’re going to serve Hashem only l’shem shemayim, for the sake of Heaven.

[Now], you’re going to wake up for Chatzot (the midnight lamentation) only l’shem shemayim!  You’re going to do hitbodedut (personal prayer) only l’shem shemayim! You’re going to get up for the vatikin (dawn) minyan, only l’shem sheymaim!

And not because it’s an ‘experience’, or because it’s something ‘amazing’. [Not because] you’re going to the field [to pray] and it’s fun, or it’s beautiful, and the sky is so beautiful, and there’s so much wide, open space, and such a beautiful panorama [to look at], and there’s such spiritual uplift.


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This time, you have absolutely no desire to do it. You’re not feeling anything. You’re going to the field only because Hashem commanded you to! This is true hitbodedut (personal prayer), only because Hashem commanded it!


It’s like what occurred on Seder night by the Chozeh. This story is told about Rabbi Shmelke, who was one of the Chozeh’s talmidim (followers), who it’s said wrote the commentary on the Tanna D’Vey Eliyahu and the Ramatayim Tsofim. They say that this story is about him.

He didn’t have anything for Pesach, and his wife was always harassing him to go to the Chozeh. He told her: “The Chozeh already knows the situation, why do I have to go and tell him?!” It was already erev Pesach, and his wife said to him: “There’s nothing in the house, no matza, no wine, do you want us to have a fast day now?! What is this, Taanit Esther? I’m not spending Seder night by our neighbors. Bring matza, bring wine, or there won’t be anything.”

He replied again: “The Chozeh knows everything.”

Immediately after prayers, without the student saying a word to him, the Chozeh told one of the wealthy men to go and bring this student everything he needs [for Pesach], an abundance that he never saw before in his life. All the delicacies, and all the savouries, different types of meat, different types of fish – everything you could think of.


The student returns home, and he finds his home stuffed full of things, like he’d never seen it before in his life. He started to prepare for his Seder night with so much enthusiasm, and with such happiness, he’s dancing and singing.

The following day, he goes to see the Chozeh, to go and tell him ‘shalom aleichim’, and Pesach kasher v’sameach. After the prayers, the Chozeh immediately turned away from him. The student thought: “Maybe, the Chozeh didn’t see me? Maybe, he’s under a lot of pressure today.” He follows the Chozeh around all over the place, trying to shake the Chozeh’s hand. But the Chozeh keeps avoiding him, until he finally realizes: He’s doing it on purpose. The student understood that he must have done some big sin…

To cut a long story short, the student is crushed, broken into pieces. That evening, the Chozeh again doesn’t wish him a ‘Pesach Kasher Ve’sameach’.


The student felt so despairing, he couldn’t even bring himself to make kiddush. Instead, he falls asleep at the table. He suddenly wakes up an hour before the break of dawn [the last possible time that he could still do Seder], and starts to do his Seder night in such a rush, that within an hour he’s completed the whole thing.

Now, he’s really got a broken heart, his heart is completely broken.

The following day, he was sure that the Chozeh is going to throw him out of the beit Knesset (synagogue) entirely. If, after his Seder night that he did so enthusiastically, and with such singing and dancing, he almost threw him out of the synagogue, and didn’t want to wish him Pesach Kasher Ve’sameach – what was going to happen now?

Immediately after the prayers, the Chozeh came up to him, shook his hand and heartily blessed the student with a Pesach Kasher Ve’sameach!  The talmid said to him: “Rebbe, yesterday I made such an amazing first Seder night, with so much enthusiasm, and you didn’t want to so much as wish me a Pesach Kasher Ve’sameach. Now, you’re wishing me Pesach Kasher Ve’sameach, after I made a Seder night that was really nothing special at all, stam…”


The Chozeh told his students just four words: Everything is exactly backwards.

You can be all excited and enthused, and even be singing – but it’s all coming from the yetzer hara (evil inclination), and it’s causing you to become arrogant. ‘Now, I’m a Tzaddik, now, I have so much emuna! Here, look what just happened for me!’

And then, there’s a person who’s broken, who knows that he’s really nothing, who’s got to a place of such mochin d’katnut (constricted consciousness), that he feels like nothing, and he doesn’t give himself any airs or graces, and doesn’t hold himself to be anything special.

And so, every mitzvah that person does, every [minute of] hitbodedut, every prayer – it goes straight up. It splits the heavens. It activates all the miracles and salvations in the whole world.

For the Refuah Shleima of Rav Eliezer ben Etya and L’ilui Nishmat Tzvi Ben Mosher Reuven

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  1. This was so incredibly inspiring and encouraging. I wish I had really known this before.
    I hope I’ll be able to remember this next time I need this!
    Thank you very much and wishing you all much bracha and hatzlacha.


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