Guest Posting From Rabbi Dovid Sears - Rav Kenig’s Conversation In The Airport
A few chaverim and I met our teacher, Rav Elazar Kenig of Tzefat, and his gabbai, Rabbi Uzi Atiah, at JFK before they left to return to Eretz Yisrael for Sukkos. (Rav Kenig had been in New York for a medical check up right after Rosh Hashanah and spent Yom Kippur in Monsey.) As we waited together for the gate to open, the Rav spoke about tefillah and mentioned Rebbe Nachman's story of the Baal Tefillah (Master of Prayer).
The Rebbe states that the Baal Tefillah and his followers lived in an Eden-like retreat away from civilization, where they spent their days engaged in “shiros ve-tishbachos” -- singing to G-d and thanking G-d. Rav Kenig pointed out that this is a different level of prayer than bakashah / supplication, even bakashah of a spiritual nature. It is a kind of hiskalelus, becoming subsumed within Divinity, together with the rest of creation; a way of connecting to the essential unity of things.
Of course, it is a mitzvah to pray for one’s needs. We need the basics of life in order to serve Hashem and fulfill our purpose in this world. However, this level of prayer is “me-centered,” whereas the higher level of prayer is “God-centered.” This was the kind of prayer that the Baal Tefillah enabled his followers to reach.
Rav Kenig related this to the Rebbe’s remark that Baal Tefillah's followers had more gratification from fasting and asceticism than they had ever derived from worldly pleasures. How could fasting and other acts of renunciation be pleasurable at all? Rav Kenig explained this along similar lines: worldly pleasures are for the sake of the self, whereas fasting, etc., put the Baal Tefillah's disciples in touch with the greater reality beyond the self. That’s what they found so delightful.
Both of these aspects -- the higher level of prayer and fasting -- characterize Yom Kippur. Most of the prayers in the Machzor are basically shiros ve-tishbachos; and fasting takes us past ourselves, too. So it all fits together.
Another point the Rav made was that later in the story, the different member’s of the King’s court, including the Baal Tefillah, become leaders of different sects, each of which had a different belief as to the ultimate purpose of life. The group that took prayer to be the purpose of life only attained fulfillment when they encountered the Baal Tefillah and accepted him as their leader, to pray with him. Their previous leader had also been a skillful davenner; but the holy Baal Tefilah was on another level altogether. He embodied the very essence of prayer. So the previous leader stepped down willingly, and the entire group accepted the Baal Tefillah as their new leader. Rav Kenig said that this alludes to the issue of davenning and serving Hashem by means of hiskashrus / spiritual attachment to the tzaddik. This is the factor that enables us to get past ourselves and truly connect to G-d.
He pointed out that hiskashrus is not a “quick-fix,” or an occasional thing a person does in order to recharge his batteries. It would be very mistaken for one to think that it is enough to take some advice or insight, etc., from the tzaddik, and then go off to do his own thing. No doubt this would have certain benefits, but it is not true hiskashrus, because the ego remains in place. Hiskashrus is a constant, moment-by-moment process, related to every form of avodah / devotion we perform. This is what gives our avodah wholeness and brings it to perfection.
I think that was the shmuess, or at least its key points, if I understood the Rav correctly.
To take it just another step farther, these ideas also may be related to Sukkos. Chazal say that the entire Jewish people truly belong together in one Sukkah. This is the aspect of the hiskalelus mentioned above, the hidden unity that is expressed by prayer in the aspect of shiros ve-tishbachos, songs and praises.
Plus the Rebbe also compares tefillah be-koach, heartfelt prayer, to a Sukkah – because the sound of words encompasses us like a Sukkah (Likkutei Moharan I, 48).
On Sukkos, we accomplish a paradigm shift from self-centered prayer and self-serving avodah to G-d-centered prayer and an avodah of unity and togetherness – “l’avdo Shechem echad / to serve Him with a common effort,” as the Navi says. This is the greatest simchah!
May we all be zokheh to a true "z'man simchaseinu," and to rejoice together in the “Sukkah shel Leviasan,” amen!