One year, on the day after Simchas Torah, the attendant of R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was roused by the sound of breaking glass. He quickly performed the morning washing of hands and ran to see what had happened. Rav Levi Yitzchak was standing there adjusting his tefillin and pieces of glass from the door of the cabinet in which they had been kept were strewn all over the floor.

“I just couldn’t help myself,” the Rebbe explained to his attendant. “It’s been nine days since I put on tefillin last. I just couldn’t hold myself back any longer. As soon as I had the opportunity, I rushed to perform the mitzvah.”

Parshas Pinchas

Our Torah reading begins with G‑d’s statement: “Pinchas, the son of Elazar... turned back My rage... by his zealousness for My sake.” Our Rabbis identify the zealousness of Pinchas with mesirus nefesh, a devotion to G‑d that knows no limits or restraints. Even if one’s life is in danger — as in the case of Pinchas, who risked his life to preserve the morality of the people — he is willing to take that risk for the sake of the values and principles that G‑d has given us.

In a complete sense, self-sacrifice on this level transcends the limits of reason and logic. Each one of us has certain values and principles that he understands are correct and would like to apply in his life and see reflected in the community around him. To work to advance these values and principles does not involve mesirus nefesh. On the contrary, one is happy and satisfied to do what is necessary to further this purpose. There is no sense of strain or challenge involved at all.

But there are times when the demands the Torah makes of us go beyond the scope of the commitment we are prepared to make. And there are other occasions where our surrounding environment creates challenges that logically, it would appear wise to avoid. Yes, we hold our principles and values important, but the question is: To what degree? How much are we willing to sacrifice for them? In most instances, we feel that our lives and perhaps even our property and positions are too valuable to risk.

This reflects the uniqueness of mesirus nefesh and the zealousness that Pinchas displayed. Even when one’s reason and logic would not require him to make a commitment, he is willing to do so.

What is the source for such a commitment? If it does not stem from the mind, from where does it stem? Why is the person willing to take such risks and make such sacrifices?

Chassidus explains that every person’s inner core is a soul that is “an actual part of G‑d.” This represents a level deeper than his thoughts and feelings. Accordingly, he is willing to commit himself to G‑d even when his logic and reason dictate otherwise. His true self, his inner G‑dly core, identifies with G‑d’s will and spurs him to do whatever is necessary to care it out, regardless of the risks or sacrifices involved.

On one hand, this appears to be an admirable level. Yet in everyday life, it may be somewhat problematic. Since we are speaking about a commitment above logic and reason, how can it be distinguished from the fanatic fundamentalism that has appeared in many sectors of our society? In what way is this message different from that broadcast by many religious cults who tell their adherents to give up everything for the connection to G‑d the cult promises?

The answer to these questions is that the values and principles for which Judaism esteems mesirus nefesh are those which have characterized Jewish life for over three thousand years. We are not talking about new ideals hatched yesterday, but a system of ethics and morality that has been practiced for centuries. A Jew’s mesirus nefesh is an extension of a history that has proved its integrity over the course of time. His self-sacrifice continues the golden chain of devotion in which over people have lived — and died — for G‑d and His Torah.

Looking to the Horizon

Our Rabbis identify Pinchas with the prophet Elijah, the messenger of the Redemption. Elijah is also identified with zealousness, a commitment that extends beyond all limits. Since in the era of the Redemption, the G‑dly core within each person and every entity will surface, the messenger of the redemption must be one who has brought the G‑dly core within his being to the surface.

Our efforts to reveal the G‑dliness within ourselves and within the world will evoke a similar initiative on G‑d’s part, motivating Him to reveal essential energies ordinarily untapped. Generally, there is an order and a pattern to Divine revelation and His essence is not revealed. In the era of Redemption, “Your Master will no longer be veiled,” and these essential revelations will come to the surface.

What will motivate this change? A similar change within ourselves. By plumbing to our core and tapping our G‑dly essence, we inspire a parallel process on the part of G‑d.