I took my kids to the National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey in Times Square, N.Y. Using video-mapping, 8K photographic animation, mega-projection screens, sound and interactive, real-time tracking, my kids came face-to-face with virtual sea life—from great white sharks and humpback whales to Humboldt squids and sea lions. They enjoyed taking pictures near realistic-looking sea creatures and wearing 3D glasses to feel as if sharks were coming at them.

And I had a thought. I knew and the kids knew that the creatures were basically a bunch of pixels of light that resemble the fish they were supposed to be. But could you imagine for a second that a virtual sea lion would think of itself as an independent being? That because it was so interactive, it didn’t really need any projectors to keep it in existence? That’s preposterous!

And yet, just as powerful technology keeps the shark in existence, creation only exists so long as our Creator continually creates us into existence. Sure, we have free choice and an illusion of independence, as if the world can exist without any need for G‑dly intervention, but the truth is we do not exist independent of G‑d.

Our ego tells us otherwise. EGO is “Edging G‑d Out.” Our ego likes to puff up our existence, keeping us full and confident with the preposterous notion of our self-importance and the illusion of independent existence. The Hebrew word for this puffed-up feeling is yeshut—the feeling of being an entity independent of G‑d. The truth of our reality, G‑d’s continuous creation, dispels the falsehood of the ego and melts it into oblivion.

That is what prayer is all about. Prayer is called a war, for there is a battle between our G‑dly soul and animal soul. The tactic is not to fight specific negative desires of the animal soul, but to weaken its power overall by focusing our intellectual and emotional energy on thinking about the truth of G‑d’s Oneness and the fact that everything in our life is being recreated by G‑d at every moment. The strategy is to use the power of our imagination and thought not for fantasy or self-obsession, but with concentrated thoughts about G‑d and His greatness. We don’t actively fight the bad; instead, we engrave the truth into our psyche.

In fact, an entire section of prayer is devoted to this: Pesukei D’Zimra, or “Verses of Song.” We praise G‑d for His greatness and bring ourselves to a conscious awareness of His Power. And our ego automatically melts when this awareness is front and center.

As it says in Psalms: “Lofty praises of G‑d in their throats and a double-edged sword in their hands.”1 When we spend time during prayer praising G‑d, we have a double-edged sword that is effective in our battle with our animal soul. Why double-edged? Because our animal soul is a mix of good and bad. It may be inherently selfish, but there are both positive and negative parts to it. When we praise G‑d, the double-edge effect is that simultaneously, the good of the animal soul gets elevated, while the bad of the animal soul separates and gets weakened. Being aware that G‑d is sustaining me at this very moment, and I am not separate from Him but one with Him, chases away the negative desires within me like light automatically chases away the darkness.

The animal soul itself gets excited with the notion that not only does G‑d recreate the entire world at every moment, but that means that the world is really nullified to Him. Just like the pixels are nullified towards the projector—meaning they don’t have their own independent existence—the entire world is nullified to G‑d, because we don’t exist independent of Him.

It’s like there’s a massive “a-ha” moment for the animal and intellectual soul when it reallizes that G‑d is infinitely greater than the world He is creating. The animal soul realizes that not only is the world nullified to G‑d, but even descriptions of G‑d’s own personality don’t really do Him justice, such as calling G‑d “great” because that implies something relative—that He is greater than something when in reality, He is infinitely greater than creation beyond a comparison!

This is hinted to in Pesukei D’zimra when we say, L’cha A-donoy hagedulah v’hagevurah v’hatiferet v’hahod—“L‑rd, Yours is gracious, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty … .” It is Yours, meaning these descriptions of G‑d are nullified and subservient to Him, being that He is so much greater than them. The angels also say that G‑d is kadosh, “separate,” completely out of the realm of His creations.

This is not just an intellectual exercise, but a profound spiritual and emotional experience as well. The animal soul realizes that not only is the whole world and even all of G‑d’s qualities nullified towards G‑d, but that means that it, too, is nullified towards G‑d. It experiences bittul, a feeling that is the opposite of yeshut, where it does not feel like it has an independent existence. Bittul and yeshut have an inverse relationship, where the more bittul I have, the less yeshut and vice versa.

By focusing on G‑d and affirming His constant creation, I have a sure strategy to melt the ego. The more I comprehend that G‑d is sustaining the universe, the weaker the hold the animal soul has on me. Bad or negativity can only come from a feeling of yeshut, existence, so the more I feel like a metaphorical pixel of light in G‑d’s world, the more bittul, or nullification, I have, and the more I have victory of light over darkness.

But which ego likes to be extinguished like that? None. And that is why every morning, bright and early, the ego desperately tries to create the illusion of self, of independent existence. And that is also why every morning, we need to set aside time to pray—to pierce through this illusion and allow ourselves the opportunity to feel uplifted into G‑d’s absolute oneness.

And that is more real than any National Geographic encounter.

Source: The Maamar, ki tihiyena l’ish, in Likkutei Torah, as explained in Chassidut Mevueret, Chapter 4.